When John Calipari came to Kentucky, everybody and their brother warned whoever would listen by tweet, post, and comment that Kentucky was doomed to suffer NCAA sanctions within a year or two. After the abortive attempt by Pete Thamel of the New York Times to create difficulty for Kentucky with allegations of academic fraud against former Wildcat Eric Bledsoe, the tweets, comments and posts got more and more frequent. When the UK basketball team's first set of grades came in, even more jeers went up from the national media, blogs, and ... well, everywhere.
When Kentucky made it to the Final Four this past year, the predictable "Calipari's first Final Four," and "Don't get used to that banner" comments came from the peanut gallery, deprived of the scandal they had expected, hoped for, or feared.
The first thing I should probably do is knock on wood. There, I've done that. How surreal does it seem, having suffered all the chatter I mentioned above, to see the Connecticut Huskies, the Tennessee Volunteers, and the Ohio St. Buckeyes all suffer sanctions? How satisfying is it to see Kentucky roll up one of the top GPA's in the SEC after the initial bumps in the road, and despite Daniel Orton leaving school in poor academic standing, having no issues at all with the APR while the Connecticut basketball and Louisville football lose scholarships?
Best of all, Kentucky is settling down with their third straight #1 recruiting class, a class that is significantly better than its closest competitors, and will be among the favorites to win the national championship next year.
One of the things that is easy to enjoy, and I hesitate to call it "schadenfreude" because it really isn't, is to see your opponents and foes get run over by the very doom they predicted for Kentucky in such a mean-spirited way. Where I come from, we call that "karma," and karma has really been nasty to UConn, OSU and Tennessee in terms of NCAA sanctions and Louisville in terms of Pitino's 15 seconds of shame and scholarship losses. Kentucky teams also enjoyed major success against the Cardinals on the field this year, defeating them in most head-to-head encounters.
Of course, tomorrow morning Kentucky could be caught with their hand in the NCAA cookie jar -- it has certainly happened before, although not in a long time. With Sandy Bell in charge of compliance, though, I don't lose any sleep worrying about that, but you never know, it could happen. It seems, however, that Kentucky really does take compliance seriously -- for example, the matter of sitting DeAndre Liggins last yearr while some of the Indiana Elite-related stuff was sorted out.
Sitting Liggins for those nine games really hurt the 2009-10 basketball team, even though their record did not show it, and could have been the difference between a close loss to West Virginia and a national championship. How much better would Liggins have been at tournament time if he had been available those nine games he sat out? We will never know, of course, but Kentucky, despite it's recent success, has had some hard luck that may have prevented the Wildcats from celebrating back-to-back national championships in basketball. Do you suppose that Enes Kanter might have helped this year's team a little if he had been available to play, instead of coach?
Even though Kentucky has not received every break it could have, it seems that the Wildcats athletic department has finally found a grove. With success on the hardwood (both men and women), on the softball diamond, with rifles, and with tennis rackets, the Wildcats have had a splendid year in athletics while many of their detractors are seeing their favorite teams suffer through some ... difficulty.
All in all, this has been a year we, and Kentucky Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart, can all be proud of.