Kentucky Basketball: The Empire Strikes Back

Kiss my Glass, Fred.

After getting lambasted last week for refusing a compromise offer by Indiana to renew the Indiana Hoosiers series with the Kentucky Wildcats, John Calipari has come out swinging, and continues to address press questions on this issue at length. His most recent "rant" included these comments:

"Schedule for America!" he said he hears from angry fans. "I’m not scheduling for America. I’m scheduling for us."

...

"So what we’re doing is what’s right for our program," said Calipari, whose most recent conversation with IU coach Tom Crean would indicate the negotiations are over. He said he told Crean: "Tommy, move on. It’s done. We’re good. I’m good. You’re good. You have your schedule. We have our schedule."

A somewhat relevant question -- why is a so-called objective journalist describing Calipari's answers to questions as a "rant?" Just askin'.

Calipari is absolutely right about this, and I have made this point many times. There is no reason whatever for Calipari or Kentucky to schedule teams in the interest of "college basketball." Nobody else is asked to do that. But suddenly, it is somehow the duty of Kentucky to make sure the UK-IU series happens even if it conflicts with the best interests of Kentucky's program, and regardless of IU's reticence?

In what universe could that rationally be considered fair?

Since we are back on this topic, I wrote before leaving for vacation that Calipari was to blame for the latest failure of UK and IU to reach agreement. I think now, in retrospect, that conclusion was wrong. I think UK did make a public relations error and continues to do so by asserting the "2 year contracts only" as some kind of holy writ. In my humble opinion, the definition of flexibility is making contracts that are in your long-term best interest, and it may be that a 4-year deal will come up that's too good not to take.

What would that look like? I don't know, but why limit yourself and then have to go back and explain later why you broke your supposedly hard and fast rule? To me, the 2-year rule seems to limit, rather than expand, UK's flexibility when they codify it like they have. Then again, maybe Barnhart and Calipari know things I don't about it, but I have to call them as I see them.

Indiana deserves an equal portion of blame for the failure of this series, even though I might be the only person who thinks so. Let's recap very briefly the sequence of events leading to the latest kerfuffle:

Normally, I'm not a proponent of conspiracy theories, but let's just put on our tinfoil hats for a second. Suppose IU wanted to embarrass UK and try to shame them into capitulating to their demands? This would be the perfect setup -- make an eminently reasonable compromise that looks too good to turn down, but that doesn't consider the scheduling moves that UK has made since IU ended the talks. This places IU in a win-win position -- if UK accepts, IU is the hero as the Henry Clay of the basketball world, cutting the Gordian knot and saving college basketball for all of America.

If UK rejects the offer, IU wins as well by looking like the only adult in the room. The problem is, these negotiations were conducted out of the sight of media... until the letter. Glass writes a letter (He'd no doubt defend this by saying he is a lawyer, and this is what lawyers do, which happens to be true, if not so much in his current position) to Barnhart, and immediately leaks its existence to the Indiana press, who quite reasonably makes a sunshine law request for the document. How do I know this happened? Because the IU press was literally writing about Glass' letter before it even reached Barnhart's desk.

Somebody will no doubt raise the issue that IU offered to participate 50% in the buyout of one of two games UK had just signed agreements with to clear the way for a UK-IU game as an indication of good faith. I would point out that UK would get all the blame for that cheap, unethical stunt, and IU would be the silent partner and held blameless, or at least, mostly anonymous. UK did the right thing by rejecting that option out of hand.

UK's ill-advised assertion of the 2-year rule as partial justification makes this even juicer for the media, who find it a simple task to indict UK and Calipari as the bad guys. They don't even think to ask why, in this day and age, Fred Glass is drafting dead-tree snail-mail to his counterpart an instant away by modern media and why the Indiana press found out about that letter before its intended recipient had even received it.

In other words, this conspiracy theory makes the whole thing a setup by Glass to embarrass Kentucky, who walked benighted-eyed into the trap. UK is the bad guy, IU is the good guy. Slam dunk.

How could UK have dodged this trap? By simply asserting conflicts with it's schedule that were finalized after IU broke off negotiations and leaving out the 2-year thing altogether. We would have been back to a he-said, she-said, and even though UK would still have received most of the blame just because that's who was always going to get it, the more thoughtful writers would have placed it where it belongs - on both parties.

As usual, we must beware of Hanlon's Razor -- never ascribe to malice that which can adequately be explained by stupidity or incompetence. It could be that IU was really so dumb that they couldn't come up with a counter-offer until seven days later even knowing time was of essence, and it is certainly possible that Glass's letter was a matter of habit, and that his incompetence resulted in the press getting wind of it.

Well, you decide. That conspiracy theory is looking better to me all the time.

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