John Calipari is the best recruiter in America. He’s got the top coaching job in college basketball. And he’s going to make more money at Kentucky than John Wooden, Dean Smith and Bob Knight ever could have dreamed of. But unlike those legends of the sport, and unlike many of his current rivals (Pitino, Calhoun, Krzyzewski, Williams, Izzo – all guys he makes more money than) Calipari has never reached the Final Four.
At least that’s how the NCAA sees it.
Yesterday, the NCAA ordered Memphis basketball and its former coach to vacate its record 38 wins and appearance in the 2008 National Championship Game because Calipari had an ineligible player on the roster. Calipari became the first coach in history to have two Final Fours with two different teams erased from the record books. In 1996, his UMass team reached the Final Four and later forfeited its season because the NCAA found that Marcus Camby had accepted gifts and cash from an agent.
In a world, particularly the sports world, where we want nothing more than to see the punishment fit the crime, this penalty amounts to nothing more than a harsh warning. Only nothing comes after the warning, as Calipari has proved. It’s an out-of-date sentence that might have worked years ago when history and records were only found in almanacs. But what does it prove now? We all witnessed Memphis’ title game run and if you haven’t you can check it out on YouTube. Everything is on YouTube.
And if we’re being real, the only question that should come from the NCAA’s ruling is this: Why in the world isn’t every college program cheating? If losing a banner is the only punishment, doesn’t it seem worth it? Those banners are ugly and can be replaced with sponsor logos anyway, right?
Or maybe everyone is cheating. Memphis made it five Final Fours in the last 17 years that have been corrupted by a team doing something un-amateur. Chances are UConn would have joined them this season if Nate Miles wasn’t tossed out of school before classes started last fall.
Maybe this stuff is as prevalent in college basketball as steroids in baseball were in the nineties and at the start of this decade. The juice made you bigger, faster, stronger and more durable and up until a few years ago, pro wrestlers were more likely to be caught using than baseball players.
There was only upside.
It appears the same goes for recruiting in college basketball. If attempting to erase history is the best the NCAA can do, then coaches will take advantage.
Coach Cal sure did.