I kind of like those NCAA commercials that get shown during basketball and football games, the ones where the basketball player morphs into an airplane pilot and the woman hurdler becomes a successful small businessperson or whatever and then the voice-over say “most of our athletes don’t go pro in sports.” (Or something to that effect) They’re not exactly un-hoary, but I’m all for trying to inject some humanity into sports, and also — maybe mostly — it’s a necessary bit of brand-burnishing for the NCAA. Because without those commercials, the NCAA would mean, to me, nothing but irrational punishments.
I’m not going to make the radical (?) argument that Memphis didn’t deserve to have 38 wins and its 2007-08 Final Four berth stripped by the NCAA because Derrick Rose might not have taken his SATs and John Calipari (above) flew Rose’s brother Reggie around to Memphis games. I mean, I think that probably actually reflects how I feel, but mostly it’s just not an argument I’m terribly interested in making. The alleged violations that the Memphis Commercial Appeal’s Dan Wolken details here are, kind of objectively, pretty scummy. If you’re into the idea that the NCAA or Memphis itself really cares or should care about who took the SATs for a guy who obviously was going to be enrolled at a school for one-and-a-half semesters, then obviously the above stuff needs to be punished.
But if we accept that these are indeed crimes and demand punitive action, what I don’t get is this — the program will apparently face no punishment going forward. This means that Josh Pastner — John Calipari’s former lead recruiter and the guy who got Rose to commit — will have a clean slate as he attempts to rebuild the program. Again, fine, but unless Memphis has to give back the revenues earned during that live-on-TV run to the Final Four it doesn’t seem like much of a punishment. Retroactive memory-wipeout technology is far less advanced than Michel Gondry and Tom Wilkinson made it seem, I’ve read. Read it in a science journal.
What I would’ve wanted to see — what might’ve made a difference, but would’ve been much harder for the NCAA to do — was an attempt to get at the root of why this sort of shit just keeps happening. If the NCAA is really interested in improving the status quo, then it should figure out a way to stem the invisible tidal force of sneaker dudes and street agents and street branding teams and AAU hustlers and Worldwide Wes types that moves players illicitly from one dirty-ish program to another. But this sort of punishment — retroactive time-jail and banner erasure — doesn’t disincentivize anything. And it doesn’t clean up something that is obviously dirty and also isn’t really serving the student-athletes the NCAA is supposed to be protecting and representing. Those kids are the only ones without the wherewithal to avoid exploitation in this whole deal, and while it would obviously be good if they all took their SATs, that might not be as much of a problem if the process through which they were recruited made a bit more sense.
And of course Calipari will be fine. This is the second Final Four he’s had to vacate, and while the Commercial Appeal’s Geoff Calkins is of course angry about the whole thing — to be fair, he does deliver some decent-enough zingerz, which really seems the point — the NCAA isn’t about to punish Cal for all this stuff. After all, neither he nor Pastner can be proven to know anything about it — the funniest part of the NCAA indictment is the charge that Memphis “didn’t properly monitor its charter jet,” like it was just being constantly taken out by whoever had the keys. (Because a jet is like the fucking stair-truck from Arrested Development) So Cal has moved on, gotten paid, and is making chummy speeches to Kentucky’s mayors and political big-shots, as the Lexington Herald-Leader’s Ryan Alessi reports:
John Calipari urged mayors and county officials from across the state to “have fun” with this year’s team, although he warned those who sit courtside to prepare for errant basketballs early in the season…
Calipari captivated the crowd of nearly 1,000 officials attending the Governor’s Local Issues Conference at Louisville’s Galt House, most of whom were clearly UK basketball fans.
But he had them hooked from the beginning as they greeted him with a standing ovation.
“I urge you to have fun with this team” — John Calipari.
There are many times when I wish I had a real full-time sportswriting job, that is true. I’m 31 and getting married in like 10 days and am pretty broke and blah blah bleugh. But the idea of being a real sports columnist and having to try to pretend to take this whole goofy shadow-carnival seriously several times per week is just really, really unappealing. There are some big problems with college hoops, and I obviously (check how long this is) do care about that, but getting mad at the dirty individuals du jour just strikes me as silly. The issue is that the incentives, for players and coaches and boosters and even the NCAA, all seem to run exactly the wrong way — against change, that is, given that the current system makes tons of money for everyone with enough pull to be able to change it. Even worse, no one involved, at any level, seems serious enough to take on changing anything.
Thanks to Brendan Flynn, as usual, for the Herald-Leader link.