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The Big Blue Daily Mail -- News for Kentucky Wildcat Fans, June 2nd 2009

It's another beautiful day here in the lowcountry of South Carolina.  Maybe today, I'll get my first round of golf in.

And it's yet another day in the saga of the Memphis academic cheating scandal which has generated so much comment.  Today, I want to contrast a couple of articles, one by Fanhouse's Jay Mariotti and another by Laurnie Caproni of the Maysville Ledger-Independent.

The Mariotti piece is an indictment of Rose, Memphis, Calipari and Kentucky.  Mariotti gets on his high horse and rides right through all four malefactors, taking no prisoners, in particular, when it comes to the Wildcats, calling Kentucky "infected":

Really think they care in Bluegrass Country if their new coach is nailed in a Memphis scandal? They just want to win, period, at any cost, which is a troubling commentary about where college sports has been and continues to be headed. You'd think there would be some measure of outrcry in all of these infected places -- Kentucky, Memphis and Chicago, where Rose's two state high-school titles could be forfeited if he and some Simeon teammates are found by the Illinois High School Association to have had grades altered.

Now, I absolutely agree with Mariotti that cheating on an SAT exam to get into college, and the grade-manipulation at Chicago's Simeon high school is disgraceful for those involved.  I will also agree that Mitch Barnhart and Dr. Lee Todd should have made the Board of Trustees aware of this impending calumny, not because I think it would have made any difference in whether or not UK hired Coach Calipari, but because it looks like the right thing to have done.



But what really gets me about Mariotti's piece is his imputation of wrongdoing to Kentucky and to John Calipari.  Despite the evidence that the worst Kentucky is guilty of is not considering the highly prejudicial but probatively irrelevant fact that a player Calipari coached cheated on a high-school entrance exam.  In fact, that cheating was so effective, apparently, that it made it all the way through the NCAA's clearinghouse, which routinely raises questions about shady-looking entrance exams.  But apparently, the player (widely assumed to be Derrick Rose), did such a good job that nobody at the NCAA Clearinghouse noticed anything wrong.

Furthermore, Mariotti takes UK to task for Barnhart's representation that he carefully vetted Calipari, citing the NCAA's comment that they gave the standard response to inquiries by UK about Calipari, telling Barnhart essentially, "Go ask the coach."  What Mariotti apparently did not notice is that UK did exactly that, and Calipari was forthcoming about the pending NCAA inquiry at Memphis, providing a letter documenting that the NCAA did not consider Calipari involved in any actionable way.

The question I have is why does all this make Kentucky "infected?"  Yes, UK does have a blighted history when it comes to NCAA compliance, but that blight is now 20 years in the rear-view mirror.  The implication that UK should be more sensitive than other schools to the alleged dangers of hiring Calipari (a coach with a spotless NCAA record, by the way, unlike Roy Williams, for example) flies in the face of reason.  Apparently, in Mariotti's world, UK should always be presumed a cheater, and "infected."  I guess he is entitled to that view, even if it does conflict with the traditional American value that the accused should be presumed innocent until proven otherwise.  What is even more offensive is the fact that Calipari has actually been accused of nothing except by people like Mariotti, who just can't accept the idea that he could not have known about the cheating by the Memphis player, or about Marcus Camby's shady dealings at UMass.

No, for people like Mariotti, it is guilty until proven innocent -- after all, the purity of college athletics is much too important to trust to a system that would not just consign all those with any proximity at all to a dishonest activity to the dustbin.  One can only wonder why he isn't calling for R.C. Johnson and the president of Memphis to be canned, as well as all the assistant coaches -- after all, proximity is proximity, and what's sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander.  We can't take any chances with the presumption of innocence when it comes to college athletics, now can we?

Which brings me to the piece by the Ledger-Independent.  Mark Story ran this editorial critical of Barnhart and containing much of the same flawed argumentation that Mariott employs, and Caproni responds thus:

"A recent story in the Lexington Herald-Leader suggested Todd had diminished himself because he is ‘carrying Calipari’s baggage.’

"Oh, really? What baggage? Has the coach committed a crime? Is he facing felony charges? Does he rob banks, run Ponzi schemes, or take part in insider trading? Has he been racing around New Circle Road on a full tank of Bud Light? Does he do weird things in the dark?

"Don’t think so.

That's refreshing, isn't it?  Barnhart, at most, is guilty of withholding prejudicial but essentially irrelevant information about Calipari from the Board of Trustees.  That may earn him some criticism, but in the real world, it isn't a crime -- it just puts him out there on the limb, where quite frankly, he is anyway if the Calipari hire winds up creating a fiasco.  Either way, he gets held responsible, and if he had told the Board of Trustees everything, it would still be his hind-parts on the line if UK goes through another season like the last one.  So what is Barnhart to do -- take a chance on a man that will deliver the UK program the kind of players it takes to rejoin the elite, or take a chance on a younger coach that may take us down the NIT road for a return engagement?  Either decision has risks, but the consequences for failure are identical.

And another question for Mariotti -- If not at Kentucky, where should Calipari coach?  Only at Memphis?  What did they do to deserve such a bad actor?  Which school would you say should hire John Calipari, a man with a spotless record at NCAA compliance?  Is nobody low enough or high enough?  Should Calipari be banned from NCAA basketball coaching because we just know he's dirty?  We don't need proof, right Jay?

So to Mariotti and the rest of the Calipari scolds out there, I say, "Kiss off."  We've had about enough of your sanctimonious smear tactics.  The only thing "infected" around here is is you, pregnant with the puss of smug self-righteousness.

And now, for the news:

UK Basketball News

  • Gillispie and UK should settle.  Mark Story gets this exactly right, for all the right reasons.
  • HoopsVibe asks, "So what if Rose cheated?"  An alternative viewpoint.
  • It's time for Rose to tell his story.  Wouldn't it be a good idea if he were actually named as the player first?
  • Danny Jett remembers Bill Keightley, and wonders "Who is gonna fill those shoes?"
  • Heh.  The Calipari daughters are having lots of fun with Pat Forde via Facebook.  Can Jay Mariotti be their next target? (hint, hint, girls.)
  • Dick Vitale defends Calipari, saying that we should let it all play out before passing judgment.  Imagine that -- Dick Vitale passing along really good advice.
  • Did John Calipari know? Not if we can trust Memphis's sources.

UK Football News

  • UK 2009 volleyball class ranked 13th in the nation.

Other UK Sports News

  • John Clay's Big Blue Links for today.

NCAA Sports News

  • College coaches get richer.  This is a very thoughtful piece about the pros and cons of paying a lot of money for coaches.
  • A great piece by Andy Katz regarding the one-and-done rule.  It's amazing how much NCAA trouble can be traced back to this lousy idea.

Other News of Interest

  • Marlene Davis of the Herald-Leader has an interesting piece on the Kentucky connections of former Minnesota Viking great Jim Marshall.

The Daily Schadenfreude

  • Dookies, hoping against hope, and following the news.