Kentucky Basketball:  Alibis

Flags decorate the graves of U.S. service members on Memorial Day at the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial in Madingley, England (via Beverly & Pack)

I know your alibis are watertight
And you're where you say you are tonight
But honey, I can tell. I know the pattern much too well.
I don't fool so easily.
-- Sergio Mendes

First of all, happy Memorial Day to all our veteran readers.  Today, we celebrate the sacrifice of the men and women who have defended our freedom with their lives.  Let us remember them well, and honor that memory.  To the valiant who have stood between those who would harm us and our enjoyment of peace and freedom, we give heartfelt thanks.  One day per year is far too infrequently to remember those fallen in our nation's defense.

Here at A Sea of Blue, we always try to keep the blue-colored shades as lightly tinted as possible and see the world as it is, not as we wish it were.  This morning, we wake up as a Big Blue Nation to find barbarians at our gates once again.  Regrettably, it is the price we all pay as Kentucky fans, and that will never change.

Foes of Kentucky basketball are many, loud, and sometimes over the top.  But it is incumbent upon us not to offhandedly discard critical commentary, even when its logic is flawed.  Instead, we should respect the opinions of those who assail the program, our coach and our players to the extent it is deserved.  It is on this rhetorical mission we will embark upon today.

It is never easy to hear your program criticized in the media, and by many others not in the media.  It is especially difficult when allegations of potential rule-breaking arise, as have been raised by this New York Times story about Eric Bledsoe.  But if we have learned nothing else as Kentucky fans, we have learned that this will be coming our way no matter who is the coach.  It came during the Pitino years, the Smith years, the Gillispie years, and now it is back with a vengeance in the Calipari years.

This morning, we will take a look at a couple of pieces critical of Calipari, and see what, if anything, can be learned.

First, we will examine the commentary of one of my SB Nation brothers, Cocknfire at Team Speed Kills.  He quotes me extensively in the piece, but I want to focus not on my reasoning, but his.

Cocknfire first quotes Occam's Razor, which is a famous philosophical principle of parsimony that essentially states, "When two theories compete for an explanation of events, the simplest theory is usually correct."  Cocknfire goes on to attempt to apply Occam's Razor to Coach Cal's career, essentially applying it to the larger question of his association with NCAA difficulties.  His premise, in the end, is that the simplest explanation of Calipari's NCAA difficulty is that he is a dirty coach.

On the surface, this looks right.  It is much simpler to assume that Calipari himself is responsible as a bad actor for the NCAA difficulties that have followed him than posit a more complex explanation.  Of course, those of you familiar with my love of things logical will instantly recognize this for what it is, an application of the general fallacy called the "questionable cause" fallacy, which says that it is an error in reasoning to conclude that one thing causes another simply because the two are associated on a regular basis.  For a deeper exposition of related issues that are more germane than mere proximity, examine my essay here.

We typically reach these types of flawed conclusions from other conclusions drawn on similar facts, which produce a form of bias.  In this case, Cocknfire does us the favor of explaining how this crept into his reasoning:

The fact is that it's personal on this level: I'm tired of coaches who think they can spend their lives breaking the rules, or trying to stay just on this side of breaking the rules, while pretending that they run an ethical, above-board program. I'm not naive to the fact that almost all programs run into gray areas from time to time, or that life maybe isn't always as simple as Occam's Razor.

So while we might reflexively be angry with Cocknfire for his comments, it really isn't justified.  He has had his own team affected by a coach who was dogged by NCAA problems, and his conclusion there was that it was the coach's fault.  How much easier is it to apply this reasoning to a college that is not his own?

Let me just say that Willaim of Occam would not be impressed by Cocknfire's efforts here.  But I do understand it, and it is a valuable reminder that we must not, in our examination of the Bledsoe matter, apply improbable explanations when a simple one will do.

So let's look at the known facts in the case:

  • Bledsoe is accused by the New York Times, with at least one witness, of being the recipient of a possibly impermissible benefit.  The person accused of paying the impermissible benefit robustly denies the accusation.
  • The Times essentially makes an accusation of academic fraud by way of grade inflation.  They justify this accusation with the comments of one compliance official "with no ties to a university involved in Bledsoe's recruitment," who implied that the grade jump was "extraordinary."

    Kentucky has stated that Bledsoe received both the normal academic review, as well as an "extensive" review by the NCAA compliance center, presumably due to the remarkable improvement.  The NCAA Eligibility Center certified Bledsoe's eligibility after both reviews.
  • The New York Times alleges that a third party, ostensibly a college coach of some sort, was required by Bledsoe's high-school coach to pay him a sum of money before he would allow Bledsoe's recruitment, which the coach apparently (hopefully) refused to pay.

So what are the simple explanations for these events?  Well, at present, the case of Bledsoe's impermissible benefit cannot be resolved.  We have two competing claims diametrically opposed.  Neither seems to be more credible than the other -- one is his high school coach, and the other is the landlord to whom Bledsoe's mother allegedly owes money.  Both have motivations to alternatively vindicate and impugn the reputation of Bledsoe's mother.

The academic fraud question seems to have been resolved.  While many point to the Rose matter at Memphis as comparable, it isn't.  Rose's eligibility was forfeit not because of the NCAA finding that he committed academic fraud, but because the Educational Testing Service invalidated his SAT.  The NCAA said in their public report that:

Ultimately, the committee concluded that it did not need to make a determination as to whether student-athlete 1 [Rose] engaged in unethical conduct as defined in NCAA Bylaw 10.1 with respect to the alleged fraudulent completion of his SAT.

The committee concluded that a finding of academic fraud was unnecessary, since ETS invalidated his score and that fact in isolation rendered him ineligible to play.

That has not happened here.  The NCAA would have to have made a direct finding of academic fraud itself, which has not and very likely will not happen.  The NCAA could appeal to its own ignorance after having certified Rose -- after all, it did not know at the time they certified Rose that ETS had problems with the results of Rose's exam. 

They can make no such excuse here, as they have reviewed Bledsoe's transcript not once but twice.  That does not mean that it is impossible for some teacher or school official to claim knowledge of academic fraud, but absent that, I would suggest that this matter is resolved.  That's a big "absent that," though -- there is still the active possibility that some credible witness may emerge to indict Bledsoe's grades.

As to the third allegation, we once again have a "he said, she said."  We know the coach has denied requiring money, but we also know that he has a motive to lie.  But we know nothing at all about the college coach making the accusation since he insisted upon anonymity from the Times, so a determination of his motives is impossible.  Therefore, this accusation cannot be resolved, like the first one.

Finally, Rick Bozich weighs in with what I consider to be a throw-away article.  It articulates nothing meaningful other than an indictment of Calipari employing essentially the same reasoning as Cocknfire, and brings us this bit of journalistic "insight:"

UK wasn't saying anything Saturday, other than issuing a statement reminding everybody Bledsoe had been cleared to play by the NCAA Eligibility Center.

I'll call that the Derrick Rose defense. It is similar to the argument the NCAA Committee on Infractions rejected twice before punishing Memphis.

As I have explained above, UK told us quite a bit more than this, and labeling it the "Derrick Rose defense" illustrates the profound laziness of Bozich in this particular instance.  That's what Occam's razor tells us, anyway.

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