One Whining Moment

Today, a few hours removed from the brou-ha-ha that has become the Memphis basketball scandal, the clouds are beginning to part.  While the initial headlines grabbed attention and attempted to convict John Calipari of everything from kidnapping the Lindbergh baby to starting the Chicago fire, the reality of the situation is far less damning than the media would currently have us believe.

For what currently seems like an eternity, I’ve listened to ESPN broadcasts and various news sources prattle on about this “eighteen-page letter” sent to the Memphis Athletic Department featuring “major allegations” against the Memphis basketball team.  We’ve re-hashed a collection of flimsy-at-best charges against John Calipari, raining on the parade of blissful Kentucky fans and perhaps worst of all, we’ve had to endure Pat Forde skulking around the greater Lexington area in what I can only imagine is a trench coat and a fedora, carrying a magnifying glass.  I’m sorry Mr. Forde, but I’ll take a pass on the ethics lessons from a writer who may or may not have served a two-month suspension from the Courier-Journal for trying to submarine the UofL basketball program just to further his own career.

For those of you that haven’t found the time (or the interest) to read this 18 page, NCAA harbinger of the end-times, allow me to sum it up for you as briefly as possible.  Of the enclosed 18 pages:

Five pages are directions for responding to the allegations (including nearly an entire page of addresses to forward responses… 11 to be exact)

Six and a half pages detailing issues surrounding the UofM Women’s Golf Program

Three and a half pages of requests for specific information

… giving us a grand total of three pages of alleged violations purported by the UofM Men’s Basketball Program.  None of which mention John Calipari, any conceivable John Calipari aliases or his evil twin “Jack Calipari” (he’s the one with the handlebar mustache and black cape).

So, what are these horrific charges really all about?  Well, apparently the Memphis Women’s Golf Program was run by the Yakuza.  The Lady Tigers’ organization committed such crimes against humanity as:

In December, Coach Bruun gave an unnamed student a Starbucks coffee mug valued at $30 as a Christmas gift.

In November, Coach Bruun allowed and unnamed student to stay at her residence after said student’s residence had been burglarized (this is somehow valued at $160).

In September, Coach Brunn gave an unnamed athlete a copy of the book “Captivating,” valued at $15 (note:  this is a book on exploring your soul as a woman in an effort to connect with God on a higher level).

On four separate occasions, Bruun paid for admission to a movie, valued at $35.

Clearly the NCAA is right to bring down this monster before she strikes again, tainting all of college athletics and perhaps the sport of golf as we know it for the foreseeable future.  Also, it’s clear that each of these infractions are somehow the responsibility of John Calipari.  Honestly, ESPN would be attempting to pin “Starbucks-Gate” on Calipari right now, had he not professed at such length his love for Dunkin’ Donuts coffee.  I suspect that somewhere in Memphis, Pat Forde is in full Woodward & Bernstein mode, attempting to prove that the Dunkin’ Donuts infatuation was really just a smokescreen to cover the trail of thousands of dollars in illegal Starbucks gift-cards funneled to players throughout his tenure.

Now, I’d be inclined to believe that there is a very real reason that you haven’t heard these particular horrific details… well, two reasons to be exact.  First of all, they’re silly.  While the NCAA may live in a world where archaic ideas like preventing a student from receiving a plaque from her golf coach to honor a hole-in-one constitutes some sort of heinous violation, the rest of the world simply couldn’t care less.  In fact, I’d say that much like myself the rest of the world would think, “that’s a very nice gesture.”  Secondly, it’s hard to make a compelling story to grab headlines on espn.com by focusing on trivial infractions (and yes, NCAA, they are trivial) from a women’s golf team.  So the media does what it does best:  find the nugget of dirt, imply that it might somehow taint an extremely popular figure, then “let you decide” from there.

The two alleged NCAA violations in this report amount to the following:

An unnamed player was allegedly given assistance in taking the SAT, thus allowing him to qualify academically to attend the university.

An associate of an unnamed player was allowed to ride on the team plane and stay a night in the hotel room with said player.

Obviously, the first of these issues is an extremely big deal.  A potential top recruit being allowed to cheat on an entrance exam, thus gaining eligibility and making a roster is the kind of no-no where I find myself in total support of the NCAA .  However, the problem here can’t really be attached to the University of Memphis or to Coach Calipari unless they can prove that either of these bodies actually allowed or encouraged this cheating.  The player in question was undoubtedly a very high-profile high school star, taking this test while in high school… thus it seems wise to initially focus on, well, the high school.

As you are probably aware, future NCAA athletes must register through the NCAA Clearinghouse, an organization that keeps records on academic standards and verifies the eligibility of potential players.  Once a player has been “cleared” to sign with a university, the school in question can hardly be blamed for taking the status at face value and pursuing the student.  To suggest that somehow the Memphis athletic department is to blame for transgressions committed in high school and overlooked by the NCAA Clearinghouse is simply absurd.  If you find a wallet on the ground and turn it in to the police, after a certain period of time the contents of the wallet become yours if the go unclaimed.  This is akin to waiting the period of time, collecting your new-found riches and then receiving a call two years later from the local police department informing you that the owner has claimed the wallet and you are now responsible for repaying the contents.

The second violation, while still a violation, is anything but diabolical.  In statements released by the University of Memphis, it was made clear to the public that situations like these were not uncommon.  When space was open on the charter plane, the remaining seats could be purchased by outsiders at a rate determined by the university.  Since this was, according to UofM sources, a fairly common situation it stands to reason that this particular infraction was an anomaly.  Whether this resulted from a bookkeeping error or a simple lack of payment from the unnamed party, neither of these situations can in any way be linked to John Calipari (unless you assume that on top of his other duties, Coach Cal also manages the finances of and oversees the entire athletic department… oh wait, some people do seem to see things that way).

So, we’ve established that this “associate” should have repaid the cost of the flight and hotel stay.  While I can certainly understand the issues surrounding the flight (as it was at the expense of the university and intended to exclusively transport basketball personnel), squabbling over a hotel room is just another indicator of how out of touch with reality the NCAA has come to be in recent years.  By this standard, any student athlete who participates in road games could be found guilty of an NCAA infraction for bringing back a new friend to their hotel room after hitting the town.  The NCAA’s stance seems to be that if the university is paying for the hotel room, no one should step foot in the front door other than those who are assigned to that particular room, which would bring me to my next point:  In an attempt to ensure that student athletes are given the same treatment as other college students, the NCAA has made a normal life nearly impossible for those it was intended to protect.

If staying in a hotel room is a punishable offense, then why isn’t the same rule applied to a student sharing a dorm room with someone from outside of the university?  If your standard history major invites his girlfriend over from out of town, sneaks her into his dorm and spends the night with her, he’s likely to receive a slap on the wrist.  There will be a write-up of some sort, but I can’t recall a situation in which the history department is forced to give up scholarships, disavow graduates and toss out any accomplishments or accolades the department may have earned in the past year. Sure, the hotel was paid for by the university to accommodate only the occupant in question, but the same could be said for the dormitory, which was constructed by the university and is meant to house only the students assigned to the particular room.

Would an engineering major on scholarship be suspended for a year and stripped of his or her achievements if a mentor professor offered a special gift to a stellar student after completing the course?  If this happened repeatedly, would the entire department be banned from engineering for a pre-determined period of time?

While we may all have our issues with the NCAA, the most important aspect of this situation revolves around a man’s reputation.  Perhaps more than any other coach in recent memory, John Calipari has been saddled with a negative reputation based on nothing but assumption, coincidence and (perhaps mostly) envy.  Talking heads from throughout the sports world are racing to gain some face-time, eager to bring up the “scandals” from Calipari’s past… despite the fact that none of those scandals actually involved Calipari himself.

John Calipari does what John Calipari does… he recruits superstar basketball players and wins basketball games.  When you deal with the best, and more significantly the egos of the best, you’re going to run into the occasional bump in the road.  It’s easy for North Dakota State to avoid issues with recruits, as the recruits in question are just happy to be playing the game and getting a free education.  For the upper-echelon teams,  demanding the best talent on the court each season, these things are always going to be a gamble.  These kids, fresh from high school, are dealing with sleazy agents, overzealous boosters, less-than-reputable outside influences and reckless family members, all under the constant scrutiny of the NCAA and the media.  To expect their behavior to be perfect is completely unreasonable, to punish their coaches for situations that are completely out of their control is equally unreasonable.

After all, the days of the NCAA Champions with flawless reputations are in the past.  Just ask Roy Williams or Jim Calhoun.  Oh hell, who am I kidding?  The old-school coaches didn’t have flawless reputations to anyone who actually knew them, they just didn’t have sensationalistic hack-journalists snooping through their garbage every evening.

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2 Responses to “One Whining Moment”

  1. Kevin Says:

    I dispute your claims. History majors don’t have girlfriends, Mr. Graham. Do your research.

  2. Daylan Says:

    If this is the best the Memphis Boosters can do, J.C. should be just fine.

    Seriously, this is no box of money in a UPS truck.

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