USA Today this week devoted a cover story to the premise that college basketball is in troublesome shape with its payoffs, academic finagling, coaching crookery and financial excesses.
So what’s new? Same song, different verse. College ball has been periodically fractured for more than 60 years.
One of the flagship teams, with the No. 1 total of victories, is again plagued by a mixture of dubious behavior. I’m talking Kentucky, folks, with its 1,988 wins — followed by North Carolina’s 1,984 and Kansas’ 1,970. You familiarize yourself with Kentucky history and Carolina and Kansas, for whatever their indiscretions, end up looking pretty darn clean and sober.
Tim Floyd had to quit as Southern Cal coach after payoffs to freshman whiz O.J. Mayo seemed rather tutor-oriented. There was that little bit about how Derrick Rose might have had some surreptitious help in getting eligible to almost spark Memphis past Kansas in the 2008 NCAA title game.
John Calipari who apprenticed at Kansas has questions to answer about his tenure at Memphis, before he bolted for Kentucky and a shocking $4-million-a-year contract. There was a hassle during Cal’s stint at Massachusetts, too.
Last year’s Kentucky coach, Billy Gillispie, is suing UK for $6 million because he was fired under odd no-contract conditions. (Man, that same school keeps popping up, since around 1950, come to think of it). Can’t those Lexington Wildcats get out and stay out of trouble? There was even a hassle when iconic Eddie Sutton was there.
Rick Pitino, Kentucky-ex and now Louisville coach, recently had to call in the feds to deal with an extortion attempt by a woman with whom he supposedly had a 2003 “encounter.”
You consider all those Kentucky wins and you have to conclude UK has either been awfully good or terribly bad to get to its level of triumphs. It wasn’t in the first plane in that scandal squadron back around 1950, but it sure flew a strong deputy lead.
The 1950 City College of New York team became the only club ever to win the NCAA and National Invitation titles the same year. Trouble is the roster was loaded with point-shavers. But in ’48, ’49 and ’51, Kentucky won NCAA titles only to learn that superstars like Ralph Beard and Alex Groza also had received gambler payoffs to control point spreads.
Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp and Co. got the NCAA “death penalty” — cancellation of the ’52-53 season. UK went undefeated in ’53-54 but stayed home from the NCAA meet when three top stars were ruled ineligible for that meet.
One judge called Rupp’s ever-winning Kentucky program “the acme of commercialism and overemphasis.” He declared that Adolph had “failed to observe the amateur rules, to build character and to protect the morals and health of his charges.” This is a demon from little Halstead, Kan.
OK, Kansas’ Bill Self and Carolina’s Roy Williams meet such standards. Will history show that Calipari has done so, at UMass, Memphis and now Kentucky?
Yep, college basketball is still in a heap of trouble, despite its fantastic glamour. Yet with periodic fix troubles, recruiting scandals, money messes and academic travesties, the modern game’s never been out of the fire pit. Could get worse, too.
All the more reason that Kansas and Carolina look so much better when they’re compared with a lot of the bandits they strive to head off at the pass to avoid being ambushed.