So I was at Jockamo this past Sunday for lunch, with Amy and Jackson and some of the youth group peeps from her church, and somebody mentioned college basketball. Then Amy joked that maybe she should separate me from the dude who was sitting across from me, since he was a Kentucky fan and I’m an Indiana fan. Apparently those two don’t get along, or some shit. I gave the empty chuckle I reserve for a somewhat polite response to an attempt at humor that doesn’t even come close, which is the only way I have found that I am any longer able to react to people who think they are going to get my blood up with some kind of college basketball rivalry nonsense. I used to get hot and bothered about that shit when I was a kid; but when I was a kid, I was an idiot. I’m not sure exactly when I gave up on rivalry as something that could get under my skin, but the catalyst for it had to be the Indiana-Purdue game in Bloomington during the Spring 1994 semester. I didn’t have a ticket for that game in the six-pack I got when I turned in my claim card. One of my friends—that’s how long ago it was...I actually had some friends!—gave me her ticket. Glenn Robinson dropped 39 points on Indiana, but the Hoosiers won anyway. Then all of us who went to the game stayed behind in our seats, just hanging out and talking, while the Assembly Hall emptied out—and then the pep band drummer ripped into what I remember being a kickass drum solo. That was a pretty sweet end to a pretty sweet game—and it was a pleasure to watch Glenn Robinson play that night. You don’t often see a big guy who can shoot as well as the Large Pooch. He may be one of the best pure shooters ever to play the 4 in college.
Nowadays, I don’t care about the rivalries like that anymore. I love Indiana, and I hope that they win. When I root against other schools, it’s only because a loss for that school would help Indiana. It doesn’t matter which school we’re talking about; and most of the time, I don’t care anyway. I just want Indiana to win. The only niggling bit of rivalry that still bothers me has to do with Duke, because of The Shot. That’s the turnaround fadeaway that Christian Laettner hit from near the top of the key to beat Kentucky in the regional finals of the 1992 NCAA tournament. The winner of that game would go on to play Indiana in the Final Four, and I was hoping that Indiana would get Kentucky in that game, because I seem to recall thinking that Indiana would have a better chance of beating Kentucky than of beating Duke; but Duke won that game, because of the Christian Laettner shot (which has gone on to achieve something on the order of cult status, as one of the most replayed college basketball highlights of all time), and then beat Indiana in the Final Four, en route to their second consecutive national championship. If Indiana had played Kentucky in the Final Four, and beaten them, I think Indiana also would have beaten Michigan in the title game. So while there is no way to know for sure, of course, I still sometimes wonder if that one shot was the only thing standing between Indiana and their sixth national title; and I still smile a little anytime I see a college basketball scoreboard that shows a Duke loss. On the other hand, that does not mean that I do not respect their program, or their players, or their head coach, Mike Krzyzewski.
I didn’t explain all this to the dude Amy thought she should separate me from, but I did say that I don’t dislike Kentucky. He said that that was “refreshing,” which probably means that he gets shit from pretty much every other Indiana fan whenever the topic comes up. I went on to say, however, that I do dislike John Calipari. His daughter piped up with something to the effect of, “Everybody says that!” Then I proceeded with my reasoning, but failed to make a good argument, because I had forgotten most of the details of the two NCAA rules incidents at Calipari’s former schools, apart from the result of each investigation, which was that the first two Final Four runs by John Calipari-coached teams were vacated by the NCAA. The dude I was sitting across from said, reluctantly, that that was a “true statement,” but that those vacated Final Four runs were not due to anything that John Calipari had done.
I didn’t have an answer for that, and pretty much wilted under the confidence of his response. Later that day, I went back and re-read some of the material on the two NCAA incidents at Calipari’s former schools (Massachusetts in 1996, and Memphis in 2008). It’s true that Calipari did not overtly have anything to do with Marcus Camby accepting improper benefits from an agent, or with Derrick Rose’s SAT being invalidated by ETS (for which Memphis ultimately had its entire 2007-08 season vacated, not just the Final Four run, which ended with Memphis losing to Kansas in the title game). Calipari left each school for greener pastures, before the NCAA had a chance to come calling. But he failed somewhere along the line at Massachusetts, by not ensuring that Marcus Camby knew to stay well away from agents, even if he was thinking about going pro. Calipari did not commit the violation himself, but if he had had good control over the program, the violation probably would not have happened.
Same thing goes for Derrick Rose at Memphis, except that this one is way more shady than what went down at Massachusetts. Rose was never eligible to play at Memphis, and the NCAA report (PDF) implies that the school knew he wasn’t eligible, but let him play anyway. Rose would also have been ruled ineligible, even if his SAT had passed muster, because someone at Memphis allowed Rose's brother to travel with the team and to stay at the team hotel—benefits that are not against the rules by themselves, but which become violations when they are paid for by the school, which was the case on several occasions that Rose’s brother traveled and lodged with the team. Calipari was subsequently summoned by the NCAA to provide discovery on this matter, although the letter summoning him (PDF) made it clear that he was not “at risk,” with respect to the Rose issue. That letter reached him at the University of Kentucky, and was dated April 27, 2009—approximately one month after multiple sources reported that he was leaving Memphis for Kentucky.
It stretches the limits of credulity to claim that Calipari was unaware of Rose’s eligibility issues. Calipari’s experience at Massachusetts establishes a pattern that these kinds of things take place on his watch. He may very well not have done anything overt in either situation; but it’s patently clear, especially with respect to Rose and Memphis, that he could have done much more to make sure that no rules were broken. They’re sins of omission rather than commission; and if it happens once, you can almost call it a fluke. It’s happened to Calipari twice, though—and he didn’t hang around to defend himself either time. He hit the free agent market, with his gaudy “record” of recruiting superstars and turning formerly lifeless programs (a bit of an exaggeration with Memphis, though if you cancel out all of the NCAA tournament success brought about by rules violations, you basically have a lifeless program) into national title contenders, and landed on his feet at Kentucky, where he has already won a national championship—which has yet to be vacated by the NCAA!
And on top of all that, he runs NBA factories, recruiting kids he knows are only going to stay one or two years before making the jump to the NBA. I don’t know how much that hurts your recruiting, since you’re winning instantly and reloading the very next year; but it sends a terrible message to the kids who are watching all of this on television, and following it on the Facebooks and the Twitters: College is no longer seen as important, or even valid, when you are perceived to have the talent necessary to go right to the NBA after high school. But what happens to the kids who absorb that message, and then bet everything on their jump shot, only to be overlooked by the college scouts or the NBA? What do they have to fall back on if they shoot the moon on the Coach Cal Game Plan and it turns out they don’t have the skeelz? What does John Calipari teach the rest of us when he skips town at the first sign of trouble? Maybe that’s just the way they roll in Graceland, I don’t know. Nobody cared about UMass before John Calipari, and nobody cares about them now. But Kentucky is one of the great programs in college basketball.
As any Indiana fan will tell you, it’s horrible when someone sails into town with the NCAA at his back, and then starts breaking all the same rules in a new place. Part of the problem at Indiana was the legacy of Myles Brand, who abused his position of power as president of Indiana University to unfairly fire head basketball coach Bob Knight, which allowed Brand to shoehorn himself into the presidency of the NCAA; and part of the problem was another former university president, Brand’s successor, Adam Herbert, who, as a minority, probably felt like he had to replace a fired minority coach (Mike Davis) with another minority coach (Kelvin Sampson); but Sampson was running from the NCAA when he departed Oklahoma, and he finished the job Brand had started when he brought down the basketball program at Indiana. It would be terrible for college basketball, to say nothing of the fans and supporters of the University of Kentukcy, if Calipari were given free rein to manage to do in Lexington what Sampson managed to do in Bloomington. Sampson was brought in at Indiana because he had a proven track record of winning—which we later learned was due at least in part to flagrantly breaking NCAA rules. Calipari, with a history of very cleverly avoiding personal direct sanction by the NCAA, was brought to Lexington because he had a proven track record of winning. Indiana came to regret the hiring of Sampson. Hopefully, the same thing will not happen to Kentucky, despite the fact that everything about Calipari’s history suggests otherwise.