Kentucky Basketball: Tying Up the COIA Matter With A Bow

We got your back, coach.

The other day I wrote about the Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics' unethical call for a boycott of the Kentucky Wildcats because of some comments made by coach John Calipari. Subsequently, there have been several media and blogger comments about the matter, and I want to highlight some of those.

First up is Rob Dauster of Ballin' is a Habit and NBC's CollegeBasketballTalk.

Honestly, I don’t have a huge problem with this kind of scheduling. Obviously, holding the best college basketball games of the season in on-campus venues is ideal. The environment is better and, frankly, college basketball just feels right when it is played at Rupp or Assembly Hall or Cameron Indoor Stadium. But there is a method to Cal’s madness, one that I have a hard time disagreeing with. The NCAA tournament is played on neutral courts. The Final Four is played in a football stadium. Getting used to playing in those environs, especially for a team that will perpetually be filled with freshmen, is a smart move for a coach trying to win a national title.

He’s also not the first coach to figure this out.

Personally, I’d rather the game be played on a neutral court than not played at all.

You hear that, Tom Crean?

The reason I started with this one is because it's fairly clear that Dauster gets it in several important ways. First, he declined to address the substance of their remarks, deferring to a colleague whom I'll get to in a minute. Second, he recognizes the value, at least theoretically, of Calipari's desire to expose his young players to an NCAA Tournament-like setting before the actual tournament begins.

Third, he alludes to the fact that other coaches, for example, Mike Krzyzewski, figured this out a long time ago. Finally, he acknowledges that Calipari and Crean are equally responsible for the ending of the UK-Indiana Hoosiers series. As a Kentucky partisan, I blame IU more, but if I were being totally honest with myself, I would blame them both about equally.

Keep in mind that the ending of the IU series, according to the COIA statement, is the event that precipitated their comment.

Moving on to our second victim, here is Matt Norlander of CBS Sports and College Hoops Journal:

Does the COIA think any school is going to take this plea with a modicum of legitimacy? It sounds like a rant, not a measured dish of advice, and it's completely void of perspective to how college basketball actually works. If programs aren't going to schedule Kentucky it's because they're either A) too afraid to play the big boy Wildcats or B) their head coach won't arrange the game because he hates Calipari.

The COIA also says neutral sites "emulate professional conditions," which can only mean one thing: The COIA also refutes the existence of the NCAA tournament. Because there's nothing more professional about college basketball than the multi-billion-dollar bracket that's meticulously managed and presented every March and April. Do you hate the NCAA tournament, COIA?

Matt makes the same point I made in my first post, about the NCAA Tournament, but throws in one about fearing Kentucky or hating Calipari. But he leaves out the most important one, and the one I would like to see addressed, which is that the COIA misrepresents Calipari's comments and falsely accuses UK of wanting to play in big time arenas strictly to professionalize players, and has made this a "policy." These assertions are factually wrong, and when the facts underpinning an argument are fatally flawed, none of the rest of it matters.

Matt winds up addressing the least important flaws in the COIA piece, and completely ignores the most substantive ones. But he does rightly point out that this is simply a rant of almost no redeeming value.

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I did, however, really appreciate Rush The Court's take. They really didn't address the substance of the COIA's remarks, but instead, focused on the reaction and noted a whiff of hypocrisy:

One thing that we are still having trouble understanding is why those same writers continue to rip Calipari for his decision to essentially put the Kentucky-Indiana series on hold because of his desire for neutral site games. Numerous writers have penned columns saying that Calipari should submit to Indiana’s wishes in order to continue the series to do what is right for college basketball. Calipari’s job isn’t to make college basketball overall better it is do what is best for his players and his program. If he decides to do something that is not "in the best interest" of college basketball and it does not break any rules, we could care less about how he schedules and think that any criticisms of him for doing so come off as self-righteous. [my emphasis]

This is exactly the point we have been making around here for days, ever since the IU-UK game went on indefinite hiatus. It is not Calipari's job to preserve some sportswriter's notion of what is best for college basketball. It is not his job to kowtow to "college basketball fans," unless they are card-carrying members of the Big Blue Nation.

Calipari gets paid to win college basketball games, especially NCAA Tournaments, by playing within the rules set forth by the NCAA, the SEC, and the University of Kentucky. He works for UK, and has no other master except for the Almighty himself. Anyone suggesting he has a duty to college basketball that supersedes his duty to this employer is, without putting too fine a point on it, being an idiot.

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Speaking of people who claim that Coach Cal has a College Basketball Overlord that he owes a greater allegence to, comes now Eamonn Brennan of ESPN.com:

For my money, the best argument is still the simplest one: Ending a traditional regional blueblood rivalry that has been played continuously since 1969 because you're only willing to play at neutral sites is, for lack of a better phrase, weak. It robs the fans of a game they deserve, in an atmosphere they control. It sterilizes or even destroys the things that make college basketball great: tradition, passion, the roar of the home crowd.

Brennan's money isn't worth spit around here, primarily because his argument is, as I said before, idiotic. Calipari has a duty to Kentucky first and foremost, because that's who pays his salary. Any other duty to tradition, to the college game, to fans, to sportswriters, to Dickie V., to ... whoever, must come at least second. If that were not the case, Calipari would be acting unethically. Brennan's argument is that he should do just that to satisfy Brennan's sense of tradition. It is also worth noting that Brennan doesn't even acknowledge Crean's role in the matter, and thinks that this is all Calipari's fault for not placing the interests of college basketball fans over that of his own employer.

That's idiotic, hypocritical, and plain, straight-up nonsense. He has a right to his opinion, but I have a right to call it what it is -- bogus.

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Finally, apparently some readers of Kentucky Sports Radio blasted the COIA and spared no aspects of those worthies in typical "bad fan" style. The COIA then wrote this response to KSR, which they dutifully published with little in the way of commentary. Naturally, I'm happy to analyze this response for them, in the form of a Fisking:

Despite the obscene, ignorant and totally despicable comments we’ve received from many of you, I will respond in an attempt to set the record straight.

It is too bad that some fans found it necessary to use profanity and "despicable" commentary, but you almost never see a quality organization even address such comments -- it is part and parcel of some juvenile fans' existence to engage in low-class attacks. The fact that the COIA did mention this speaks volumes about their intentions, and not in a good way.

COIA has never, as a matter of policy, commented on the things that individual universities, or coaches, do whether we agree with them or not. That is not our thrust. We decided to comment on Coach Calipari’s pronouncement only because it has far broader implications for the integrity of the student-athlete idea in intercollegiate athletics. What he’s suggesting is that his non-traditional program is dedicated to bringing in athletes that are, for all intents and purposes, professional with no intention to graduate from the University of Kentucky.

And this is a problem for college basketball how? Other programs do this. What is UK supposed to do, get these young men to swear an oath signed in blood to substitute the judgment of the COIA or like-minded acedemicians for their own when it comes to the decision to stay in college or become professionals?

In order to satisfy the COIA, is UK supposed to decline to recruit the best players because they might have "no intention to graduate?" How does one go about this and still look after the best interests of their program?

The sort of players he referred to will probably need to attend classes to stay eligible their first semester of their freshman year, but, if they intend to turn pro, would have no need to attend classes in the spring because their intention is to leave the university once drafted. Any pretext of such UK (or any other university’s) basketball players as student-athletes is gone it seems. It also seems tragic to us that the NBA Players Association currently controls whether such athletes, who don’t desire to attend a university for an education and would prefer to play professionally, are limited in their ability to do so because the rules that apply to other athletes (i.e., baseball) graduating from high school don’t apply to them.

Okay, now we see what's happening here. The COIA has hired Bob Knight to consult with them. I wonder how they failed to notice that "The sort of players" (can't you just feel the scorn dripping off that statement) to which they refer not only attended classes in the second semester at UK, but did very well for the most part?

As for the NBPA part, well, they don't really control it, and you'd think these smart people would know that a collective bargaining agreement requires more than one party. Not only that, you think the COIA would know that these young men have professional options overseas when they graduate high school, but most would prefer a year or two of college. What should we do, make a rule to turn "The[se] sort of players" away from colleges that they are fully qualified to attend? How does one do that and stay within state and federal law? The COIA predictably doesn't say.

Again, COIA’s stance is only to defend the integrity of the student-athlete concept. The issue of games at neutral sites is not all that important, other than as a symptom of the "big issue" that we, as representatives of our various member faculties, felt that we have the responsibility to speak out about.

Is it possible that these intelligent people are really this obtuse and bigoted? Just because they don't like the fact that student-athletes sometimes are more athlete than student, since when did they become so narrow-minded that they could not appreciate the diversity that groups like this claim to value? It also beggars reason that neutral-site games weren't that important, since they were the most prominent feature of their screed against Kentucky and Calipari.

As you can see, there is nothing here except more hypocrisy and bloviation, the kind we have been regularly attacking at A Sea of Blue for years. This isn't about student-athlete integrity, it's about the unhappiness of some of these people that kids without a complete education can succeed at greater levels than those with advanced degrees, and utilize the same institutions in the process. It is about a kind of bigotry toward a certain type of educational achievement without which others are classified as unworthy of success, and unworthy of respect.

This is truly a sad commentary on this group, and a calumny from which their reputation cannot recover among anyone paying attention.

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