[Editor's note: A Sea of Blue member TeamWeaver posted a similar FanPost that I had not seen until after I put this up. If you have not read his comments, check them out at the link just above. Great minds ...]
Petulance is a human characteristic that crops into the most noble of professions, and the most noble of men. With that in mind, never let it be said that the NCAA cannot whine with the best of them, as they proved in their now-infamous letter to Kentucky complaining about the short celebration of 500th victory on the basketball court.
First of all, let me say that I understand the NCAA has a tough job, and despite the proclamations of many, I think they try very hard to do a good job. Sometimes, they succeed, and sometimes they fail. Very often, the NCAA decisions are inconsistent at best, incomprehensible at worst. The letter from the current Committee on Infractions chairman, Dennis Thomas, contains evidence of all these things.
Despite this, A Sea of Blue has and will continue to defend the NCAA when they are right, or when the complaints about them fail to comport with either reality or reason. At the same time, we will not look the other way when they make silly, unfounded comments or just temporarily lose their minds in a fit of pique.
To wit: The NCAA Committee on Infractions wrote a 5-page, single-spaced letter to Sandy Bell in response to her response to their inquiry containing several risible and fact-challenged comments. The first is this one, where Bell wrote, in relevant part:
Our only intention was to recognize the fact that, during his career, Coach John Calipari had indeed led his teams to 500 victories on the court. Regardless of how the 42 victories are statistically noted, they did in fact occur.
The NCAA response was ... interesting:
Ms. Bell ignores the fact that these wins were gained with the use of ineligible student-athletes.
No, she didn't ignore that. She clearly recognized the wins as being vacated, but also asked the NCAA to realize that they cannot undo history. The NCAA then goes into an arcane diatribe about why these student-athletes were ineligible, as though the facts were unknown to Bell. Leaving aside the pedantic absurdity of this run-on paragraph, the screed included this sentence:
In the Memphis case, the involved student-athlete's college entrance score was invalidated due to fraud detected by the ETS.
This is facially wrong. The entrance exam was never determined to be fraudulent by ETS, it was merely suspected of being fraudulent. When the student-athlete in question (determined to be Derrick Rose) did not respond to their requests to clarify the matter, the ETS still did not declare the exam fraudulent. They canceled it in accordance with their procedures. That's not the same thing as a finding of fraud, and the ETS did not report to the NCAA that the test was fraudulent.
Now, let's be honest here -- you and I know that the evidence is sufficient for a man on the street to conclude that Rose committed academic fraud. But the NCAA, and Mr. Thomas, is not the man on the street. They must carefully avoid stating things as fact that they cannot support as fact. There is a reason that the NCAA did not find Rose guilty of fraud, and that reason is that they could not prove it to their satisfaction.
The NCAA Committee on Infractions hearing the Memphis case was careful to say that they did not need to reach the question of unethical conduct by the "student-athlete in question," the only justification for which would have been academic fraud. Mr. Thomas, despite serving on that same committee and presumably helping to write the report, apparently forgot this.
Thomas goes on to berate Bell for dismissing the vacation of wins as a "statistical note." Bell was clearly referring to the presentation of data, not to the validity of the COI's actions. If you check UK's website, you will find that the records include the vacated wins, with a note at the bottom that indicates the vacated wins, which is apparently acceptable to the NCAA. It was this process to which Ms. Bell was referring, but Mr. Thomas decided to ignore her meaning and rephrase her comment in a way that deserved the mighty, damning, Extremely Troubling™ moniker.
Thomas then takes issue with Bell's understanding of NCAA statistical staff member Gary Johnson's response, "You can say he [Calipari] has 1,000 wins if you want, but if you want to agree with what his official record is, then you have to account for those vacates." Thomas doesn't just disagree with Bell, he pulls out the scare quotes and gets downright nasty:
The committee disagrees with Ms. Bell's "interpretation" of the instruction received from the NCAA statistical staff. Recognizing Mr. Calipari for a fictitious 500th win does not properly "account" for the vacation of wins in Mr. Calipari's career record. [my emphasis]
Well, pardon us, dear sir, for daring to take an ambiguous response and interpret it advantageously. The fact is, the "vacates" were accounted for in every way that matters in the media, at the explicit direction of DeWayne Peevy, the UK associate athletics director for media relations. It seems here that Mr. Thomas is determined to undo reality and create his own version of the facts.
You can almost see him there in Indianapolis, as if cast in the role of Seti I of Egypt, with his scepter pointing out to all has he pronounces this doom:
"Let the name of "Calipari" be stricken from every book and tablet. Stricken from every pylon and obelisk of the NCAA. Let the name of "Calipari" be unheard and unspoken, erased from the memory of man, for all time."
By the way, how did that work out for Old Seti, anyway?
Additionally, the use of the word "fictitious" in this paragraph literally drips with scorn, almost to the point of apoplexy -- you can effortlessly envision the spittle flying if he were speaking it. One could be forgiven for getting the idea that Mr. Thomas does not like Coach Calipari very much, especially when combined with his prior inaccurate and pejorative characterization of the Memphis penalties.
Bell then wrote this as part of a paragraph explaining Calipari's concerns:
My coach has an understandable concern that he is being singled out by the NCAA.
Mr. Thomas haughtily lectures Ms. Bell at absurd length, including this remarkable passage:
The committee rejects out of hand any notion that it selectively punishes individuals or certain institutions, for that matter. For a veteran administrator at a major Division I institution to agree with a coach that he is somehow being "picked on" by the association is, again, very troubling to the committee.
Mr. Thomas' love of adjective-prefaced "troublings" is ... troubling. But seriously, Bell did not agree with Calipari -- she said Calipari's feelings were "understandable," and that is patently not the same thing as agreeing with him. I understand Calipari's defensiveness, too, but I do not agree with it. So what Mr. Thomas is apparently "very trouble[d]" about is little more than empathy for a fellow-employee. Hard-hearted man, this Mr. Dennis Thomas.
Finally, the Big One -- the Great Whine we hear from the NCAA all the time. In response to Bell's concern that the NCAA has ignored a number of other coaches' usage of their vacated victories in official records (which also happens to be used to support Calipari's claim that he is being singled out), Thomas waxes petulant:
The committee's staff does not have the manpower or the time to retroactively review all instances of vacation made during the 60-year history of the NCAA enforcement program. However, if the COI receives any information that an institution is not complying with a penalty, such as in the instant case involving Kentucky, it will take action.
Thomas opens up that rhetorical bottle, and out pops the big, ugly, unfriendly djinn. Rush The Court details several such cases, including some very obvious and high-profile ones, the very next day. How the NCAA cannot afford an hour or two researching such issues and spend at least that much time writing a five-page single-spaced letter full of excessive pedantry by any reasonable measure is, well, anyone's guess.
Mr. Thomas, your wish has been granted. We will be watching. Closely.