Monday, April 2, 2012

The NCAA Final Four...

If anyone has any doubt as to the increasing corporatization of college sports, I hope you are enjoying the truly abysmal spectacle that is the NCAA basketball tournament, which will culminate in tonight's final game. The University of Kentucky goes up against the University of Kansas, and Kentucky coach John Calipari will more than likely end his mercenary and completely joyless tournament run with his first national championship, after which most if not all of his star freshman players will declare for the NBA draft before the nets are cut down.

No one knows how "Coach Cal" works his white boy voodoo magic to lure the most talented high school players in the country year after year to play for him, but he has left a slimy trail of thinly veiled malfeasances at every program he has worked for. Neither UMass nor Memphis have come close to matching the success they enjoyed with Calipari, but those successes came at a cost, with the NCAA coming down on both programs after he's left. Here is a short laundry list of questionable practices by Calipari-

-There are many coaches who feel extremely uncomfortable with the allegiances Calipari's carved out for himself with various powerful street agents who masquerade as AAU coaches all across the country. This may not be illegal, and indeed these types of relationships are necessary if one is to compete for the best high school talent in the country, but the system itself is rife with massive corruption on that particular end. And the only thing that talks is money.

-The myriad of NCAA violations UMass and Memphis were left with after Calipari's tenures at both schools had ended. Leaving town just ahead of the posse doesn't look good, but it hasn't hurt his ability to land what is arguably the best coaching job in college sports. What does this say on the premium Kentucky puts on winning at all costs?

-At Kentucky, basketball has always taken precedence over everything else, including education. There is nothing else going on in that state, and despite the monumental pressure to succeed, Calipari has been unrepentantly doing "The Dougie" ever since he got there. So whatever he is doing to bring in these blue chip athletes, it's with the University's blessing.

Calipari is by no means what ails college basketball, he is merely the poster boy for how rotten things have gotten. He is a symptom-the greasy, flashy player's coach who can all but guarantee his signees a one-way ticket to the NBA lottery if they just buy into his system, which caters to developing a pro-style game with the dribble-drive offense on one end and stifling man-to-man defense on the other.

These guys played on the same college team-and couldn't win the big one...
Yes, it takes a great coach to bring these type of cats together. No one is denying Calipari's skill set as an X's and O's guru. There have been a few glaring examples of hyper-talented teams whose coach couldn't take them to the promised land. One of the most egregious examples was Dale Brown of LSU, who had a bomb squad with Chris Jackson, Maurice Williamson, Shaquille O'Neil and Stanley Roberts in 1990 yet lost in the second round of the tournament to Georgia Tech. But that doesn't excuse the manner in which Calipari goes about his business.

This type of talent-hoarding at the top by the super-programs has damaged college basketball. The athletes you see playing in Division I are indeed physical specimens-quicker, faster, and stronger than at any other time in the history of college basketball. But that doesn't make them compelling players to watch. Where are the transcendent talents? Last year we were subjected to the nauseating Jimmer Fredette as the darling of the tourny, and this year it's one. Come on, man, please!!! And where are the eccentric coaches like Guy Lewis of Houston or Jerry Tarkanian of UNLV? The sad part is that in today's game, there is no room for coaches like this. They are an anachronism, having been run out of town by the corporate structure that pervades in college sports. Coach K of Duke will go down as the most successful coach in D-I history, but that doesn't make him any less boring.

Jerry Tarkanian-at least he made cheating fun...
Calipari, as polished a corporate slickster as there is, has a few things in common with the loveable redneck goon Dale Brown and the out-of-control renegade Tarkanian-they all had problems with the NCAA. Brown and Tark the Shark were continuously hounded by accusations of recruiting violations, something which coach Cal has managed to somehow avoid. With his track record of violations after the fact, that is a miracle, but an example of what college basketball has turned into. Kentucky is a national powerhouse, not some backwater program run by a coach who is constantly at odds with and challenging the power structure, which was Tarkanian's eventual undoing. Calipari probably cheats just as much as these other coaches did (and probably a lot more, seeing how big-money has infiltrated the ranks of basketball all the way down to the junior high school level) but he puts on  the face of the happy corporate warrior and doesn't make any waves.Which is not so much a crime as it is a shame. when the suits win, we all lose. And college basketball is all the worse for it.

So enjoy cutting down the nets tonight, Calipari. I for one will not be rooting for you despite the inevitability of the outcome.

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