Tuesday, October 20, 2009

One Violation at Kentucky and Calipari Should be Banned From the NCAA


They are freaking out in Kentucky over basketball, and more power to them. I've been to Kentucky. Enjoy whatever makes you happy, I guess. The problem is, by hiring John Calipari away from Memphis right as Memphis was having an entire season voided by an academic scandal, Kentucky has brought in a coach of unquestioned talent and highly questionable ethics. When you read this, you can understand the fever pitch and the ethical blind spot they seem to have in Kentucky:
I was in Lexington at the end of the 2008-09 regular season, there to see Billy Gillispie star as the dead man walking. Just two years earlier, he had hosted a love-in Big Blue Madness of his own. Now, the Big Blue Nation was just plain mad.

The tension was palpable, the uncertainty choking for the university administration.

People were disappointed, disgusted and, ultimately most damning to Gillispie, disenfranchised. He had done nothing in their eyes to curry favor or patience, remaining aloof and brusque at a program where public relations -- and here, that is just what it says: relating to the public -- is as important as diagramming a winning out-of-bounds play.

Was it that bad? Not really. Gillispie probably was never going to get the PR part of the job. But the man can coach, and perhaps with time and better players, he would have shifted the imbalance in the wins and losses columns, which would have gone a long way toward generating forgiveness of his off-putting personality.

And there are plenty of programs that gladly would have taken a collective, calming and cleansing breath for a coach who a year prior was the conference's coach of the year and in the NCAA tournament.

But Kentucky is not most places.

More importantly, it doesn't want to be.

"In Kentucky, you can't love your grandmother more than basketball,'' said Van Florence, the 30-year president of the Committee of 101, the UK booster organization. "And if you did, your grandmother would tell you you're stupid.

"Having a couple of winning seasons at Texas A&M or El-Paso doesn't equate to nothing to these people. They equate to Carolina and Kansas. They don't give one damn who's in the Big 12 or who you beat in the Big 12. Until you've beaten Louisville and Indiana and UCLA and Kansas, you haven't proven a damned thing. That's what this program is about.''

All that anger, frustration, embarrassment and sadness served as the perfect backdrop for the white-horse ride Calipari has taken into town.

He, too, can coach. While many question his methods and scoff at the "program rooted in integrity'' line in his Friday night speech, there is no arguing his ability to X and O.

Calipari should be banned from the NCAA if he has even one infraction at Kentucky. The good people of Kentucky have confused Kentucky Basketball with a professional sports program--it is anything but. There's nothing wrong with insisting on winning, but if Calipari has to cheat to get there, the NCAA needs to step in and calm the waters by shutting Kentucky down for a season--yes, give it the death penalty--and bring some perspective back to the program. I have no problem applying this standard to any other program where coaches and boosters are cheating and ruining the integrity of the game. I have no problem at all with that. Any program that even seems remotely dirty, go ahead and clean house. I have a sneaking suspicion that we are due for another 1951 in Men's college basketball.

The only reason why I'm singling out Kentucky is because of the sordid history of the program, and because of what Calipari left behind in Memphis.

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