Most Kentucky fans will remember Boston Globe writer Dan Shaughnessy for his many screeds against UK basketball coach John Calipari. Just in time for a soiree at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Shaughnessy’s quixotic, seemingly unending assault on Coach Cal has yet to run its course. His most recent piece assails UMass for honoring Calipari tomorrow and Wednesday, and says that the university should "vacate the decision to honor John Calipari."
Kentucky has seen no shortage of crusading opinion writers bedeviling Coach Cal. To be sure, Calipari is to some (but fortunately fewer and fewer) a polarizing figure in college basketball. His embrace of the "one-and-done" rule earned him the constant displeasure of many college basketball Ludites who simply can’t imagine why any young college-age male would rather run off to a multi-million dollar NBA contract than hang around college for four years to earn a sports management degree. Yeah, go figure — these young guys just don’t appreciate the value of a free college diploma that they will likely never need, and could finish any time after their NBA career is over.
Of course, now that Mike Krzyzewski has embraced the "one-and-done" and has won an NCAA title using such players, only the most died-in-the wool Calipari critics, like our hero Dan, dares go where the other Internet angels now fear to tread.
But anyway, back to his piece, where Shaughnessy is beginning to look suspiciously Ahab-ish. Quoth he:
What an embarrassment for our state university. You’d think our UMass officials would have as much good sense as the president of the University of Memphis, who canceled a Cal celebration after initially thinking it would be a good idea to honor college basketball’s all-time bag man.
Comparing Memphis fans, still raw over losing Calipari to Kentucky in a straight-up fair fight for his services because of Kentucky’s legendary status, to what Calipari did at UMass isn’t even apples and oranges — it’s more like apples and orange roughy. UMass was nobody from nowhere, basketball-wise, until Calipari took them into national contention and to an NCAA Final Four — something nobody else has done there before or since. You can’t say that about Memphis, who has a basketball tradition that makes UMass look like NJIT if you don’t count what Calipari did in Amherst.
Shaughnessy goes on to relate the Marcus Camby story, which he apparently blames on Calipari despite the fact that the NCAA said he was a victim of Camby’s action. Consider the words of the Infraction Committee chair from this Sports Illustrated classic:
"There is no doubt that you were unaware of the violations involving student-athlete Camby," Yeager wrote in a letter to Calipari dated June 8, 2004. "In a sense, you were an ‘innocent victim’ in this."
But hey, we’re all entitled to our opinion — Shaughnessy no less than I — and if Danny boy wants to relate only the facts that he cares about, well, that’s America. But we’ve seen that movie before, so we’ll move on to his next point:
There was more. UMass players’ transcripts obtained by the Globe in 1994 indicated that there was a significant problem in the classroom: Camby and three teammates played while they were on academic probation. Last March, Steve Satell, a former tutor for the UMass basketballl program, told the New York Times, "Coach Calipari could have created a great academic program, but he ruined it. And the university was absolutely complicit.’’ A Connecticut AAU coach who delivered many players to Calipari at UMass told the Times that Coach Cal’s recruiting philosophy was, "If you qualify, we want you. If you don’t, we still want you.’’
Well. That’s certainly something naughty, right? Nobody can argue that players shouldn’t play when their academics aren’t in order, and I certainly won’t disagree — except for the fact that playing on academic probation was common during that era. Miles Simon, most valuable player of the 1997 Final Four, played almost his entire career at Arizona on academic probation.
Quick, NCAA, "vacate" that western Wildcats championship and elevate us to the title; number nine the easy way! And to think, Arizona is still honoring Lute Olsen despite this despicable behavior. Oh, the humanity.
Naturally, the "everybody
does did it" defense is hardly an ethical one, but to paraphrase a biblical axiom, neither is it ethical to ignore the beam in the eyes of many while pointing out the mote in the eye of one. Either all coaches who played players on academic probation are despicable for doing it, or in my opinion, none of them are.
After the Camby disclosures, the NCAA spanked UMass, fining the school $151,000 and forcing UMass to erase its Final Four appearance. In NCAA parlance, UMass’s Final Four appearance was "vacated.’’ It never happened. Cal was long gone when the sanctions came down. After the Final Four, he bailed on UMass, signing a $15 million contract to coach the New Jersey Nets.
Um…no. UMass wasn’t "fined," they were required to return the revenue gained during the UMass NCAA tournament participation in 1996. That may be a distinction without a difference to Shaughnessy, but I think it’s pretty important. UMass was not actually sanctioned by the NCAA — they didn’t get any kind of punishment, unless you consider repaying money and vacating the official wins the NCAA thought they had earned unfairly due to Camby’s personal actions "punishment." But UMass lost no recruiting visits, suffered no probation, nor received any of the kind of sanctions "dirty" programs virtually always do.
In any case, Camby himself wound up footing that bill for the university by repaying it in 1997. That’s only fair — and fairness is something that seems to evade Shaughnessy in my view — but that’s just the Kentucky fan in me, I guess. Diatribe Dan has his reasons for loathing Calipari. Accurate facts are for reporters, not "columnists," and the NCAA’s willingness to consider Calipari innocent is just too inconvenient to that loathing to consider, apparently.
So now we move on to Shaughnessy trying to burnish his bona fides as a UMass "fan:"
I enjoyed the 1996 UMass run as much as anybody. My UMass friends wouldn’t trade it for anything. I get it. Those were great times to follow UMass basketball and it was exciting to have a local team in the Final Four. But we eventually found out that the whole thing was a deal with the devil that poisons big-time college sports. In the end, we were no different than bandit programs we mocked at UNLV and New Mexico. And now our State U is honoring the man who was in charge during the scandal.
There is a long-standing Internet adage called "Godwin’s Law" that states, "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison to the Nazis or Hitler approaches 1." It seems to me that a corollary to Godwin’s Law is thus; The more a Calipari critic (like our hero Dan) talks about him, the probability of comparison to Lucifer in one of his many forms approaches one. And here we are.
I really appreciate how UMass gets that Calipari is worthy of their accolades, and to me, it just demonstrates the bankruptcy of Shaughnessy’s position and the hilarity of his inability to let it go. But far be it from me to begrudge Shaughnessy his apparent loathing of Coach Cal, nor his barrage of rhetorical harpoons. Irrational detestation not supported by facts is the right of every American (and whaler), and I’ll defend Diatribe Dan’s right to bloviate this irrational prattle to the end of my days, no matter how much he dissimulates and engages in convenient memory.
In fact, anything that allows me to write scorn-dripping expositions about Calipari’s detractors is something to be cherished in my semi-retirement. So I suppose I owe Shaughnessy a polite "thank you" for inspiring me.
Thanks, Dan. Let’s enjoy Cal’s ennoblement at UMass together, shall we?