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Archive for Sunday, May 30, 2010

UConn coach Calhoun escapes responsibility

May 30, 2010

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On balance, it hasn’t been a bad month for Jim Calhoun.

Certainly better than the one that two of his former assistants are having. They were dumped from the University of Connecticut basketball program under the cloud of an NCAA investigation and will likely now never have meaningful careers in their chosen field.

Better, perhaps, than many of his former players, who tend to leave UConn without degrees and with no appreciable job skills other than dribbling a basketball.

Calhoun? Well, his reputation was damaged and he did have to spend part of Friday at a press conference he surely found painful. But he had a long Memorial Day weekend to get over it, and the apologists above him were busy protecting their coach at all costs.

If he needed any more solace, he didn’t have to look far. The extra $13 million UConn so generously gave him earlier this month should heal a lot of wounds, both real and imagined.

Calhoun was already the highest paid state employee in Connecticut even before the new contract fell into his lap. But having to pass out basketballs and deal with the hassles of the NCAA investigation apparently prompted his bosses to give him a new pact that pays him $2.6 million a year.

That something is seriously amiss in college basketball should come as no big surprise. The number of millionaire coaches rises every year, while the graduation rates of the athletes who toil for nothing but books and meal money barely budge.

This time it’s about a coach in Connecticut whose talents helped win two NCAA championships. Next time it may be about a coach in Kentucky with a knack of getting out of town at just the right time.

The sport, at its upper reaches, is a cesspool, filled with coaches so desperate for talent that they begin recruiting kids barely out of grade school. The coach who proves most successful in the art of teenage persuasion is usually rewarded with the biggest contract, so they’re continually on the prowl.

There’s so little oversight that someone has to practically hand deliver evidence to the NCAA to get them to look into violations. Even then, NCAA investigators are fixated on the minutiae of phone calls and texts and meals while paying no attention to a bigger picture that grows uglier by the day.

They came down on UConn on Friday, if only because a Yahoo! Sports report last year about the recruiting of Nate Miles was too detailed to ignore. The NCAA alleged eight violations, including a slap on the wrist to Calhoun for failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance.

That was enough to send two assistants packing, and it may be enough to cost the Huskies a scholarship or two. It wasn’t, however, enough to cost the man at the helm of the program anything more than a few awkward moments at a press conference.

If anything, it seems like Calhoun is being rewarded. Why else, with the school fully aware of the coming NCAA charges, would it tear up the coach’s existing contract just a few weeks ago and give him an extension that will pay him $13 million?

“The NCAA review never played into these conversations,” UConn athletic director Jeff Hathaway said when announcing the new contract.

If Calhoun is responsible for two national titles on his watch, though, he’s responsible for everything else. While the two assistants are convenient scapegoats, it’s hard to imagine that the control freak of a coach had no idea what was going on when he ordered his people to go after one of the nation’s top recruits.

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