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Calipari’s Sleaziness

March 18, 2010

(Updated below the fold)

Since I’m sticking steadfastly to my “don’t write about health care during the biggest week for health care in the history of the country because, frankly, I’m just sick of it (no pun intended)” policy, I’ve decided to tackle the other big issue of the week (and no I don’t mean Isreal and Vice-President Joe-Gaine): college basketball.  Charles Pierce has a piece up in Slate about John Calipari called “The Sleaziest Coach in Sleazy Game”, which does basically what I do when I write about sports, i.e. take an offhand subject and present an argument one-sidedly so that the reader only gets one view of the issue in question and is extremely inclined to agree with the writer.  And since, it’s sports, I’m 100% okay with that.  Disclaimer: It irritates me when people start ripping on the Tigers.  Then we’ve got some issues.

In his piece, Pierce doesn’t so much rip on the Tigers as much as he sneers at Calipari for winning by dirty means and then leaving programs in shambles in the wake of the penalties they receive for the violations for which he is responsible.  I don’t care if anybody calls Cal a slimeball, but it does bother me when people use the standard “Well, isn’t that convenient!” excuse to rail at the Tigers for cheating.  The facts are these: Somebody took Derrick Rose’s SAT for him, therefore he was technically ineligible for the entire 07-08 season, and since he played in all forty of the Tigers’ games, Memphis has to forfeit all of its wins from that season, including the five games they won in the tournament and their Final Four appearance (plus $500,000 in tournament revenues).  Instead of producing any fresh angles on that tired subject, Pierce gets all Northeastern and repeats what’s already been said a thousand times:

But the man is a master at walking between the raindrops. The argument in his defense is, always, that nobody investigating the scandals at UMass and Memphis ever found anything they could pin directly on John Calipari. It was always the players who betrayed his fundamentally naive trust in their integrity, or the shifty characters around the players who induced them to abuse the good nature of a decent chap who’s only trying to play by increasingly complex rules. While Calipari knew Memphis was under investigation before he scurried off to Lexington, the NCAA itself has said that Calipari is not “at risk” in its investigation of the Memphis program. His responsibility for knowing what was going on with his players ended at … well, it’s hard to say where it ended because, by the logic used in this defense, it never really began. What was he supposed to do, anyway? How can a poor man stand such times and live?

The fact that the penalties are still being appealed doesn’t matter at all to this cat.  Nor does it matter that the NCAA Clearinghouse’s responsibility to put the rubber stamp on a player’s eligibility (that means declaring him ineligible if he didn’t take his own SAT) not the coach or the university.  Nor does it matter that these crimes were so heinous that no further penalties were employed against Memphis’s basketball program, which, believe it or not, still exists outside of John Calipari.  None of these things matter to anybody.  All that matters is that the Tigers got in trouble while Cal was their coach during a season in which they went to the title game with a player who was the #1 overall selection in the NBA draft a few months later.  Therefore, Memphis cheats/pays their players.  Anybody see a pretty big leap in logic there?

Unfortunately, most everybody doesn’t see it.  The truth is that the guys at the NCAA are penalizing the Tigers and dragging out the appeals process in order to cover their own keisters because they know they screwed the pooch on clearing Derrick Rose to play college basketball.  I honestly believe that if Memphis had won that game, the NCAA wouldn’t have looked twice at Rose’s SAT score (hell, they wouldn’t have even looked once).  But, since the Tigers lost, the NCAA gets to make them a test case for violating some rule that Clearinghouse knows it can’t enforce so that maybe people won’t do it again in the future.  (I mean, what are they supposed to do?  Physically go and sit in the room with a player while he takes a standardized test?  Apparently so—that would seem to be the expectation Clearinghouse had for Memphis with Rose.)  And everybody gets to laugh in the public forum while the Tigers attempt to appeal in a back room because ultimately, it’s no skin off anybody’s fanny but the NCAA, but nobody wants to talk about that because they’re still wringing their hands over how Cal got such good players to come to a commuter school in a non-BCS conference in the first place.  So what’s the easiest thing to say?  “They cheated.”  And it’s not true.

To be clear, I’m not defending Calipari against other accusations.  By all means, call him a sleazeball if you want to.  Mock him for his repeated recruitment of one-and-dones, the way he treats his players, his weird relationship with Worldwide Wes, or just his general greasiness.  But not for this.  If anybody deserves a good ripping on for this situation, it’s the NCAA for allowing a team with an ineligible player to make it to the title game and then breathing the biggest sigh of relief ever when Mario Chalmers makes the luckiest shot of all time to prevent them from winning the whole thing.  I vote we move in that direction.

UPDATE: In a shocking development, NCAA is going to deny the appeal.  I know, I was floored too.

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