Jim Calhoun's retirement was discussed yesterday on Jim Rome's show. Now, I normally find Rome to be sometimes les than genuine, but in discussing Calhoun, he and his guests, Mike Freeman and Jeff Passan, discuss whether or not Jim Calhoun was a victim of his own success as head coach at UCONN. They gave him credit for building a stellar program in the middle of nowhere Connecticut, and in the same sentence they basically claimed that in the end, Calhoun was forced to "adapt"(their moniker for cheating) to remain a top tier coach and program. While one raised the possibility that Calhoun was always dirty and no one knew it, the other basically claimed that it was Calhoun's own success that forced him to have to cross the line on more than one occasion to continue to be relevant. Now I can understand what might bring them to that conclusion, but I am forced to call "no joy" when I allow myself a moment to let the entirety of that statement sink in.
How is cheating now defined? Is it looking the other way when a kid gets some much needed cash from someone who is more than willing to give it? Is it getting players help with their schoolwork, up to the point of allowing them to take courses where they pass simply by showing up? Is it back room deals with runners and representatives of agents who control the kids that it takes to run a successful program? Is a coach who 20 years ago would have thrown a guy out of his office for walking in with a packet of information about a kid who could be the next Michael Jordan and says he needs $1000 to get the kid to the school, now getting to sit down and actually have a conversation? Where can the line be drawn between working in "gray areas" and crossing the line? When Billy Clyde Gillispie was here, he figured out a way to put one over on the NCAA about Big Blue Madness, exploiting a loophole in the NCAA's rules. Did he cheat?
North Carolina right now is embroiled in such a deep mire of what appears to be the worst case of lack of institutional control I have personally ever witnessed. Just one problem. The wrongdoing is so widespread, that it takes in regular students as well as student-athletes, so the NCAA has stated that so far, they do not have jurisdiction to deal with UNC. The problems reach as far as the UNC School of Dentistry, but are they cheating? Is it cheating for a player's mother to travel all over the country watching her son play basketball on the school's dime? Well, if she is an employee of the school, apparently not.
Roy Williams showed up at a kid's home the other day carrying a suitcase of rings. Perfectly legal, right? But was it something a Head Coach should do when recruiting an impressionable young man? Calhoun lost his way so badly that he forgot that his players were also supposed to attend class and try to get passing grades. Could he have been so focused on the end result that he forgot how the process works? And what part do morals play in all of this? If a coach follows a rule verbatim, but violates common decency, are they cheating? Our own Coach Cal has been accused of many things, but never once has it been proven that he has personally violated an NCAA rule, yet he is described by his peers as one of, if not the dirtiest coach in the NCAA. Is that because he is actually cheating, or because no one can figure out for sure what he is actually doing? And who determines where the lines are drawn? Can you be within the rules and outside the lines at the same time? Is winning the definition of cheating? How responsible should the Head Coaches be when it comes to their personnel? If a booster hands a kid a bag of cash, should the coach know about it? And when coaches look the other way, not because they know there is something going on, but because they don't want to know if something is going on, are they wrong?
I love my college sports. I have always said that one of the main reasons I do, is because they college kids play for the love of the game, not the money. But I find myself saying that if they need money, give it to them. Let some of the multi-billions paid out to these schools and conferences trickle down into a kid's hands. Show them responsibility, teach them the things they need to know and what they need to watch out for, and make that one of the reasons that they attend college. Teach these young men and women what lies ahead. Make helping them legal within the rules, and not something that a coach has to look over their shoulder for. When Dale Brown paid for two of his players at LSU to attend the funeral of a friend, he dared the NCAA to say a word. You know what? They didn't. Maybe it's time for the NCAA version of Tax Amnesty. Let's get everything out on the table, clear the air, and assess where we really stand, before it becomes too late, and the ship sails with a man holding a bag of cash and the keys to a Mercedes at the helm.
Maybe it's silly and naive of me to think that there is a place for right and wrong in the world of big money and contracts, but I guess I will hold on to my little piece of Fantasy Island for a little while longer. There has to be a place for the money and morals to meet. And there have to be examples for these kids to follow so that they don't end up wasting their lives dancing to someone else's tune. A pipe dream? Maybe. Nice guys always finish last? Possibly. Somewhere out there, there is an answer. Someone has a plan. Please bring it to the table. Please make it available so that not everything has to sink into a tank of sludge and slime labeled "Today's Game". Find me something pure and honest in all of this. Because I am struggling to keep my dignity and my passion from killing each other.