March Madness is, indeed, an accurate description of how college basketball takes center stage throughout the country during tournament time. Men’s and women’s teams representing schools of all sizes, from major Division I universities to much smaller colleges, are competing for national titles, and their millions of fans are along for the ride.
Added to these millions, even more millions of Americans are trying to predict the outcome of the games, entering various pools or betting schemes that total in the many millions of dollars.
Various work behavior specialists claim this basketball mania results in a sizable decline in productivity by millions of workers who are glued to television, radio and sports pages to follow their teams’ advance in the various tournaments.
The Kentucky Wildcats are considered the nation’s No. 1 team. Both the Kansas men’s and women’s teams are playing this weekend in their NCAA tournaments’ “Sweet 16.” This column is being written before the Friday night tipoff in St. Louis and today’s women’s game in Des Moines. Both teams have distinguished themselves, win or lose, and Kansas University, the athletics department and the coaches have performed in a manner that reflects credit on the university.
Unfortunately, the Division I NCAA tournament playoff is a bit of a scam.
The manner in which Kentucky coach John Calipari has built his team makes a joke of the NCAA’s much-ballyhooed “student-athlete” slogan.
Calipari’s record at Kentucky and the previous stops along his coaching trail, along with the apparent approval of University of Kentucky leaders, offers proof that his No. 1 priority is winning games. Any effort to suggest Calipari’s true interest is trying to provide a college education, a degree, falls apart when looking at his record, the players on his past two Kentucky teams and the outlook for players on his current team. His goal seems to be to win and make his players instant millionaires.
After Calipari’s first season at Kentucky, five of his players were drafted in the first round of the 2010 National Basketball Association draft. Four were freshmen, one a junior.
The first player chosen was John Wall, a freshman. He was followed by DeMarcus Cousins, a freshman, fifth; Patrick Patterson, a junior, 13th; Eric Bledsoe, another freshman, 18th; and Daniel Orton, also a freshman, 29th.
The next year, 2011, three of his players were drafted: freshman Brandon Knight, eighth; senior Josh Harrelson, 45th; and junior DeAndre Liggins, 53rd.
The nbadraft.net website tries to predict the upcoming draft. Here’s its forecast, as of Friday, for those on this year’s Kentucky Wildcat team: Anthony Davis, freshman, No. 1; Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, freshman, No. 4; Terrence Jones, sophomore, 18th; Doron Lamb, sophomore, 25th; Marquis Teague, freshman, 32nd; and Darius Miller, senior, 44th.
After having five players drafted in the first round of the 2010 NBA draft, Calipari talked about his next year’s team and told a reporter from the Lexington Herald-Leader, “I hope we do it again. … My dream now would be to have the No. 1 overall pick and six first-round draft picks. I want my sixth man to get drafted in the first round.”
He added, “I’m not saying that winning national titles is not important; it is. But if you told me we’d win a national title and no one gets drafted or you go 0-for-20 against West Virginia and five guys get drafted, you tell me what you’d want. I know that makes the old guard mad that I’d even say that, but if it’s about these kids, this would be a great day.”
Speaking at a fundraiser in December 2009, Bob Knight, one of the nation’s most outstanding college basketball coaches and a coach who stressed the true student-athlete philosophy, said, “We’ve gotten into this situation where integrity is really lacking and that’s why I’m glad I’m not coaching. You see we’ve got a coach at Kentucky who put two schools on probation and he’s still coaching. I really don’t understand that.”
Calipari is the only coach to place three different college teams as No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament, but two of those appearances (1996 at Massachusetts and 2008 at Memphis) have been officially vacated by the NCAA. Calipari also is one of only two coaches to direct three different schools to Final Four appearances (UMass in 1996, Memphis in 2008 and Kentucky in 2011) with the UMass and Memphis appearances later being vacated by the NCAA.
As a result, Calipari is the only head coach to have Final Four appearances vacated at more than one school although he was not personally implicated by the NCAA.
With this record, Calipari has been named national coach of the year three times.
Obviously, winning games is the only thing that counts at Kentucky, with most of his underclassmen players leaving college for the pros. The NCAA continually pounds its chest about being focused on the “student-athlete.” What a joke.
As the NCAA Division I tournament moves into the final two weeks, KU fans will be cheering hard for the Jayhawks. This column was written Friday afternoon, but we know this morning whether the Jayhawk men were defeated or will move on to face either North Carolina or Ohio in a Sunday showdown to move into the Final Four.
Granted, there are cases, past and present, of players who have attended these elite “Sweet 16” schools who have left before their sophomore, junior or senior years and not finished their degrees. However, few, if any, schools have followed the Calipari-Kentucky blueprint of placing winning at all costs above the NCAA’s head-in-the-sand slogan about student-athletes.
Most schools try to play the game the way it’s supposed to be played, but Kentucky, which probably will win this year’s title, is almost running a semi-professional program with an unfair advantage over those schools and coaches who attempt to abide by the NCAA guidelines.
Will this year’s Calipari team win his first national title then meet the goal he dreamed of in 2010 of having five players drafted in the first round, four freshmen and an upperclassman? Plus, he wanted his sixth player also picked in the first round. Wonder how many of these players, past and present, will return to the campus to complete their academic requirements for graduation?
Maybe, in the minds of Calipari and UK officials, million-dollar contracts totally negate the need and importance of a college degree.
Kansas basketball coaches Dr. James Naismith, Dr. Forrest C. “Phog” Allen, W.O. Hamilton, Dick Harp, Ted Owens, Larry Brown, Roy Williams and Bill Self all have tried to play the game the way Dr. Naismith intended: as an important and integral part of a young man’s development through his college experience.