Monday, March 28, 2011

BDT -- In Defense of Calipari (Mar 28)

Yes, yes we do! And we love you! Screw everyone else!

This past weekend may very well have been the greatest sports weekend of my life. No kidding! Of course, I've likely had fifteen or so other 'greatest sports weekends' already in the past twelve months...remember, I'm actually a seven year old. Regardless, this past weekend has to rank right up there with the best of them, despite continuing my incredible streak of being sick for over a week. For one, I absolutely crushed our friend Prince in my fantasy basketball championship. I'll spare you the details since nobody actually cares about anybody elses fantasy team, but I will say Prince came out of the fight looking like Rocky after his first fight with Apollo Creed.

I'm pretty sure there was something else big that happened this weekend...hmm...oh yeah, KENTUCKY IS BACK IN THE FINAL FOUR!!!!!!!

Beating Ohio State, especially in the heart wrenching manner we did, was joyful enough, but taking out rival North Carolina to earn our first trip to the Final Four since 1998 was pure bliss. Again, there's plenty of time to think about and break down the matchup against UConn; for now I want to enjoy this!

There is, however, one thing I noted from Kentucky's run that was a bit surprising. There seems to be a great deal of hatred for the University of Kentucky. I expected the hatred from the Ohio State fans considering Friday night's outcome, but I wasn't necessarily prepared for the response nationally. I've heard this comparison before, but it really does seem like we're the Yankees of college basketball. Perhaps you think me naive, but keep in mind, Kentucky, for the most part, was bordering on nationally irrelevant for much of my formative years. I was barely past ten years old when Kentucky was dominating in the mid '90's and by the time I was fully immersed in the message board/blog/national media community, Tubby Smith had already driven us into mediocrity. I sensed the hatred during last years run, but chalked a lot of it up to the one-and-done outcry. This year though, the hatred seems amplified despite the heavy contributions from upper classmen. No, there's no denying it this time around; Kentucky is the evil empire to the rest of the sports world.

You know what? I LOVE IT! I love the feeling of being on our own island. I love the feeling of us against everyone else. I love knowing how much pain our success inflicts on the rest of the college basketball landscape. I LOVE IT! Truthfully, it seems like our players are embracing it as well. Most sports writers will spend time railing on the lack of sportsmanship in today's game. They'll pine for days gone by when players respected the game (not true by the way). Me? I love how DeAndre Liggins talks trash from the tip-off to the final buzzer. I love when Josh Harrellson throws a basketball through opposing players, leaving large exit wounds in the process. It's part of the game! No wonder everyone hates us! I LOVE IT!

While I embrace the overall hatred for Kentucky, there is one looming sentiment thats actually started to creep under my skin. You'll see it on the internet, you'll see it on Facebook, you'll see it on Twitter; heck, you'll see it everywhere you look for the next week! It's time for another round of the "John Calipari is a dirty cheater" theory!

I suppose, on the surface, this isn't a terribly illogical theory. I mean, the shoe certainly does seem to fit! Calipari has been the head coach of two teams that have been forced to vacate Final Fours. As damning as the last sentence sounds, and as easy as it may be to connect the dots, there's one problem; there's no facts to support the cheater theory!

I spent a good deal of time during the NFL season talking about some stupid theories. Specifically, I talked about the ridiculous theory that certain quarterbacks are 'clutch.' Stats simply didn't back up any of the widely held notions and, therefore, we are forced to disregard the popular romanticized idea of the 'money' quarterback. Here's another instance where widely held opinion and theory has marred any semblance of the truth. For whatever reason, this happens all the time! Whether it's the clutch QB theory, or the Obama wasn't born in the U.S. theory (certainly heard that enough), or the even more ridiculous 9/11 conspiracy theory; if you say it enough then it becomes true. Except, of course, for the part about it actually being true...

Here's the reality about John Calipari. He was not implicated in either NCAA investigation. He was never cited, never punished, never reprimanded. Both violations occurred independently of anything John Calipari did and he was in no way responsible. It's certainly not the story you usually hear about him, but it's the truth whether you choose to believe it or not.

The first instance occurred in 1996 while Calipari was at UMass. Star player Marcus Camby was found to have accepted over $28,000, plus other items from two agents. The incident was fully investigated by the NCAA and John Calipari was expressly cleared of any wrong doing. Pushing bias aside, is it really that difficult to believe that sleazy agents, working only for their own interests, would be able to play on the desires of a college kid only months away from millions? Like this has never happened before! Yet, inexplicably, I don't hear the same outcry against Steve Fisher despite the massive Ed Martin scandal that occurred under his nose at Michigan. Perhaps you could accuse Calipari of being naive or not having a firm enough grip on his program, but that's the risk a university takes with a young, inexperienced 37 year old coach. Regardless, the facts are clear! Calipari was cleared of any wrongdoing.

The second instance occurred in 2008 while Calipari was at Memphis. Star player Derrick Rose was implicated in an SAT scandal. His test was fraudulently completed, thus making him ineligible for collegiate athletics. In addition, his brother Reggie had been allowed to travel to road games for free; another violation. There's a couple of interesting things with this one. For one, the stupid NCAA wrongly cleared Rose before the season! If there was an issue, why didn't they catch it? That's their job! Calipari played Derrick Rose under the auspice of the NCAA Clearinghouse! All of a sudden, after the year is over, they inform Memphis they screwed up and Rose actually wasn't eligible. Good work guys! For another, the NCAA sent a letter to Calipari informing him he was not considered at risk in the investigation. What's more, he was never implicated in the investigation. No evidence ever turned up showing he had anything to do with any of it. Another forgotten aspect of this situation is the crazy Memphis booster scene. The Memphis program has had several incidents before Calipari and the boosters (especially FedEx) are known to be out of control. How is that Calipari's fault?

I realize I'm likely going to be accused of homerism here. After all, it's typical for fans to defend their own. Believe me, I would gladly admit homerism and that's not at all what this is. I defended Calipari strongly at Memphis and I openly campaigned for him to be Kentucky's coach on every message board I could find. Unfortunately, I didn't have a blog at the time so I have no evidence of this. Hopefully I've built up enough credibility for you to take my word on this...if not, hopefully we'll get there in the future. Either way, I know my view isn't the popular view, but I'll stick by the facts.

In most cases, the old paradigm, "where there's smoke, there's fire" holds true. Even I can admit there's plenty of smoke here. Two vacated Final Fours is a significant black spot on anyone's record. Truthfully, I can understand why people feel the way they do. College athletics is, and always has been, a giant cesspool of corruption. Even 'clean' guys such as Tom Izzo have been hit with minor violations lately. And, since Izzo is widely believed to be the hallmark for clean, you might be surprised to know Izzo and Calipari are good friends. Izzo, in fact, has commented on how much he respects Calipari. Think that's a coincidence? I don't. Even still, the theory remains and rumors fly.

Here's the thing; I'm not going to tell you how to feel. Truth be told, there are plenty of guys I hate for no logical reason. If you want to hate Kentucky; go for it! If you want to hate John Calipari; have at! It doesn't bother me at all, that's just sports. If you want to hold the opinion that John Calipari is a dirty cheater, then you're entitled to that opinion. It doesn't make it right though. I'm the type of person who believes in absolutes. There is a right and there is a wrong. Here's an absolute for you; there is no evidence John Calipari is a cheater. None. Zip. Nada.

I honestly and truly feel bad for the guy at this point. He constantly has to deal with baseless accusations that call into question his integrity. It seems telling that, at this point, people would rather retell the false stories of Cal's cheating rather than the true story of Cal raising a million bucks for Haiti. I suppose that's not nearly as interesting.

Believe what you will in this case, but don't be ignorant. Calipari has never been found guilty of anything and in this country, that makes him innocent. You see, burden of proof doesn't work the other way around. You actually have to prove somebody is guilty before they are guilty! For a variety of reasons, I choose to believe the best in people. Maybe I'll be proven wrong one day. Believe me, I'll be severely stung and disappointed in Calipari if that ever happens. Until then, it's irresponsible to propogate false stories about him. Maybe I need to learn to embrace the Calipari hate as much as I embrace the Kentucky hate, but at least there's a legitimite reason to hate Kentucky. Either way, love us or hate us, we're going to the Final Four again! Here's hoping for more hatred on the way!

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  1. So, you love the feeling of your team being on their own island. You love that it's you and your team against everyone else. And you love how much pain the success of your team causes other teams and their fans...I guess you be a fan of the Miami Heat.

  2. Number one: I'm not sure what "I guess you be a fan..." means.

    Number two: I hate the Miami Heat. At least my team didn't stab people in the back and hold a championship celebration before playing their first game!

  3. I'd like to say I told you so on the Ohio State game...We wrote the book this year on losing "defining" games...Wisconsin was viewed as our "last roadblock" from an undefeated season, and Jordan Taylor become the unstoppable force in the 2nd half....Liggins was the Taylor of the sweet 16, in combination with the fact that OSU had a shooting performance comparable and we ecided that maybe if we tossed enough layups towards Harrelson, he might eventually get tired of swatting them.

  4. You lost two regular season games! You can't tell me you "wrote the book" on losing those types of games. Do you want to know which team, at a late point in the season, was 2-6 in games decided by 6 points or less? You guessed it! Kentucky! While you lost to tough home teams such as Wisconsin and Purdue, we were off losing to Ole Miss, Alabama, and Arkansas (none of them even tournament teams!).

  5. Landrum, we didn't know each other well at Grace, you might not even remember me, but I saw your article linked on Casey Richie's facebook wall. Good stuff man, I formerly have been one of those people who heard and regurgitated the "shady character" story, without knowing much about any sort of details. Appreciate seeing the light through your words. Good article man, you have some serious writing talent. Officially re-linked and advertised on my wall now too. Keep doing your thing sir.

  6. Hey dude, I really appreciate the kind words! Seriously, thanks for reading. I guess I just feel really strongly about Calipari because I'm a Kentucky fan. I've always supported him, but I really do get where people are coming from with the skepticism. I guess I just wish the media would tell the whole story.