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Kentucky Basketball: Is There A Double-Standard When It Comes To Calipari?

Many Kentucky fans see a double-standard in the criticism that John Calipari gets compared to other coaches who've had NCAA issues on their watches.

"Coach Your Team"
"Coach Your Team"

Rush The Court had an article today that made a very good point when it comes to John Calipari and newly-minted SMU Mustangs coach, the legendary Larry Brown. Here's a taste, but be sure to read the whole thing:

The motivations for Calipari’s constant disapproval are not directly relevant to this comparison. If you want to take shots at Calipari for what he’s built at Kentucky without factual evidence, the floor is yours. The point is, Calipari’s dossier is no more heinous than Brown’s, yet the 72-year-old legend is bypassing the biting antagonism and indignation Calipari deals with every season despite his verifiable history of NCAA violations. It’s almost as if the negative side of Brown’s college coaching career has been thrown by the wayside, replaced by the sterling image of an innocent and immaculate coaching legend, reinvigorated for one last unlikely turnaround.

This is doubtless true, and it is also true of other coaches who have had NCAA problems, most notable among them Steve Fisher of the San Diego St. Aztecs. There is really not much doubt that both Brown and Fisher are regarded fondly compared with Calipari by many basketball fans, as well as much of the sports media.

The answer to the double-standard question is that, of course, there undoubtedly is one, a naked and unabashed double-standard as heinous and unfair as any you will ever see in any walk of life. That is a fact, and while some might dispute it, they do so without the benefit of living in the same reality as the rest of us.

So why is it? Well, I'd say there are several reasons, including:

  • Age. Both Fisher and Brown are elderly men, and in America, we have a tendency to be more forgiving of the indiscretions of youth when one becomes a "well-seasoned" citizen.
  • Time. The violations that Fisher and Brown had were many years ago now. Calipari's difficulties are comparatively recent, and while many will rightly point out that the UMass troubles were long ago, they only figure in because of the 2008 problems at Memphis. Brown has been in the NBA since 1988, so his infractions are really distant. Fisher's problems are now almost 20 years in the rear-view mirror.
  • Relevance: Calipari's programs, both at Memphis and now at Kentucky, have been nationally relevant for a long time. San Diego St. has had a nice run recently, but the program isn't threatening to become the new UNLV Runnin' Rebels or Florida Gators. Brown has yet to coach a college game since 1988.
  • Calipari's indifference to traditionalists. John Calipari has ruffled more feathers with his embrace of basketball reality that almost anything else. The basketball "purists" who long for days gone by when college basketball was less professionalized truly hate Calipari's embrace of the reality of early draft entry, and his unabashed desire to move talented players along to the NBA as soon as possible. This cadre of Calipari haters are by far the most unrepentant and inconvertible, since they see him as a fundamental attack on the core principles of college basketball.
  • Pure, green-eyed jealousy. Let's face it - John Calipari has become more than a recruiter and more than a coach. He is an institution in his own right, a figure arguably more powerful than even the program he represents. His success at selling young talent on his successful program, and almost magical ability to underpromise and overdeliver, have placed Kentucky at the top of virtually every talented recruit with near-term NBA aspirations.

    Other programs and coaches are so vastly overmatched when recruiting these players against Coach Cal that word is, many of them have started to give up. When Mark Turgeon could not successfully woo Aaron and Andrew Harrison to Maryland despite vast structural advantages in the recruitment, many coaches around the country began to realize the futility of taking on Calipari. After watching Turgeon invest so much time and energy in a losing effort, most coaches are doubtless smart enough to pick fights they can win, and a recruiting fight with Calipari has a low probability of success.

    As an understandable result, the fans of these programs feel very put-upon, and its always easier for them to create some imaginary unfair advantage Calipari exploits than it is to blame their own coach for failure to embrace today's college basketball reality. Who can blame them, really?

Double-standards like this are inevitable, and no matter how unfair they may seem, there is little to be done about it. At an appropriate point in the future, the perception of Calipari will almost undoubtedly change for the better -- it's an irresistible human impulse that we're already beginning to see. Coach Cal probably understands this if he ever even troubles to think about it -- which, come to think of it, I doubt he does, as busy as he is.

As we saw on the All-Access program last night, Calipari has emblazoned above his office door the words, "Coach Your Team," a reminder of what he's at Kentucky for. He's not here to garner praise from Bob Knight or Pete Thamel, but rather to coach his players to as much success, both in college and after, as he possibly can. He's fine if Roy Williams and Bill Self get all the good press, as long as he gets his team a chance to win the NCAA Tournament every year.

As they say, time will take care of the rest.