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Kentucky Basketball: Romancing the Stone Thursday

When I got up this morning and read the news, I could only think of Michael Douglas, who played the part of Jack Colton in the 1980's romantic adventure Romancing the Stone when he exclaims after a wild ride down a mudslide, "This has turned out to be one hell of a morning!"  The morning is still young, but it already meets the Colton definition.

The biggest news of the morning are the allegations by the NCAA of violations at Memphis in the 2007-2008 basketball season.  After the initial shock and awe of finding that many of Calipari's naysayers appeared to have been right all along, we find out that Mitch Barnhart and the Athletics Administration, and presumably Dr. Lee Todd, knew about this allegation when Coach Calipari was being interviewed.  Not only that, it seems that Calipari received an all clear from the NCAA as well in this incident.  So now that we have at least a few relevant facts (pretty darn few, but a few), what are we to make of all this?

Well, if the allegations turn out to be true, it will be the second time that Calipari has coached at a school that had major NCAA issues, but none of the mud stuck to him.  Some, even the thoughtful ones, are going to assure us that is a huge problem, and maybe it is in a strictly public relations sense.  People, particularly in America, love to play the, "guilt by association," game -- any "bad thing" taints all those associated with it in a position of responsibility, whether or not they had any actual involvement with said "bad thing."  That's a favorite pastime here in the U.S., particularly in sports and politics.  That means, Dear Reader, that you as a Kentucky fan are now tainted by your association with John Calipari, who is tainted by the Memphis allegations and the UMass scandal.  That's how it goes, so if you are looking for the NCAA's letter clearing Coach Cal to provide absolution from your friendly rivals here in the River City and elsewhere, may I suggest you find yourself a home somewhere in the dimension we like to call, "reality."

Make no mistake, the Memphis problems are a bad thing for Coach Cal and for the sport, if proven true.  Academic cheating is a serious offense, and were Memphis forced to surrender its 2007-08 season as punishment, it would hurt the legacy of Calipari in a very direct way.  Regardless of Calipari's lack of culpability, having his school or player implicated in cheating is very unfortunate for him and the school.  Memphians would blame Calipari regardless of his involvement, just because of the sheer convenience and his proximity to it.  Wishy-washy 'Cat fans will join them.

So what to do?  Should we wring our hands and bemoan the tragic loss of all the good feelings the mainstream sports media were heaping on UK over the last two months?  Should we jump on the anti-Calipari bandwagon that is beginning to ride around the blogosphere and other fan sites?

First off, I think we should wait and see how this plays out.  I am confident that UK knew what it was doing in this situation, and that the vetting process will be fully vindicated.  I am also quite sure that the NCAA asked UK not to make public this coming inquiry into the situation that happened at Memphis, or we would most certainly have heard this by now.

But assuming that no surprises crawl out of the woodwork implicating Coach Cal, I think we should all reread this sage advice and once again, embrace the hate.  "Why," you ask?  Because if you are honest with yourself, you know as well as I do that if St. Peter himself came down from Heaven and testified in open court that John Calipari was as blameless as a newborn babe in any and all these allegations, it would not matter one iota to this program's detractors, nor to many who find Calipari's occasional close proximity to NCAA violations troubling.  That's the way the game is played, and the only antidote is skin as thick as an M1A1 Abrams' armor.  Many of us were glad to have Coach Cal, and we got him, warts, baggage and all. 

So embrace that hate, Big Blue Nation, and take pleasure in the loathing.  I know I will.  It is fun urinating on the schadenfreude of others, and watching them contort themselves into a tizzy to create self-deluded hopes of NCAA sanctions to come.  It makes me laugh out loud to see logic tortured to the point of screaming agony.  Parsing Coach Cal's occasional cryptic tweets just adds to the aura of suspicion.  Have fun with it.

As for the tut-tutting of the mainstream sports media, what the heck is new about that?  We had to listen to it during Gillispie's tenure, and we'll have to hear about it during Calipari's.  Lighten up and appreciate the irony.  My guess is, you'll have plenty of opportunities to gloat in the faces of both rivals and media elites over the next few years, and headlines about UK reaching new heights will no doubt take the sting out of all the hand-wringing and grim pontificating you'll have to put up with over the next few weeks.

Some of you may ask how I can write such a glib piece in the face of such serious allegations, and I will answer that it is easy when you have these things going for you -- First, we are assured by UK Athletics that Calipari is in the clear.  That means a lot to me.  Second, we have so few facts right now about what the allegations actually are that to reach conclusions about the culpability of the coach, even if we assume that UK Athletics is wrong, is simply absurd on its face.  At this moment, there are a lot more questions than answers.  I assure you, my tone and content will change dramatically if Coach Calipari is actually implicated in any part of this scandal,  but for now, I am taking the position that there is no "there" there when it comes to Calipari's involvement.  If that turns out to be wrong, we'll deal with it accordingly.  And finally, I refuse to provide fodder for this program's detractors that, at this point, is incredibly premature and likely unnecessary. 

When the time comes to take Calipari to task for something, you can bet that we will here at A Sea of Blue -- I think my record on that is pretty clear.  Until then, I will laugh at all the uproar.  Life's too short to live in a state of fear and paranoia.