Cin­derella takes a pass as NCAA’S power pro­grams grab the spot­light

The Washington Times Daily - - Sports - BY EDDIE PELLS

NEW OR­LEANS | Look­ing for those charm­ing un­der­dog sto­ries? Go find the DVD from last year.

This year’s Final Four brings to­gether an en­sem­ble of big-name schools, all sad­dled with their typ­i­cally big-time is­sues, a re­minder that ev­ery­thing in col­lege sports is not as pure as the NCAA and its “stu­dent-ath­letes” would like us to be­lieve.

In the na­tional semi­fi­nals Satur­day, Ken­tucky plays Louisville and Ohio State meets Kansas. All the schools have made head­lines for a va­ri­ety of off-the­court rea­sons over the past sev­eral months, in­clud­ing the pro­lif­er­a­tion of one-and-done play­ers, sto­ries about coaches in court­rooms, and a hand­ful of fi­nan­cial mis­deeds in­volv­ing re­cruits, play­ers, coaches and even ticket man­agers.

And so, while there are no lit­tle vs. big sto­ries this year — the way tiny But­ler or over­looked VCU beat the odds last sea­son to make it to bas­ket­ball’s pin­na­cle — we’re re­galed with tall tales of re­demp­tion and res­ur­rec­tion: teams and coaches that over­came their prob­lems and got ev­ery­one think­ing about bas­ket­ball in­stead of the un­der­side of a busi­ness driven by a $10.8 bil­lion TV con­tract.

“There are a lot of good play­ers out there who are per­form­ing right now,” Ken­tucky coach John Cali­pari said.

For his part, Cali­pari is per­fect­ing the art of lur­ing a player for one, maybe two sea­sons, to con­tend for a cham­pi­onship, then say­ing a guilt-free good­bye. Dur­ing his more can­did mo­ments, he’ll tell you he’s no fan of the rule that al­lows play­ers to leave col­lege af­ter a sin­gle year. But it’s out of his hands.

It means fresh­man An­thony Davis and Michael Kidd-gilchrist, both pro­jected as high NBA lot­tery picks, prob­a­bly will be gone af­ter this sea­son, and it’s not im­pos­si­ble to think the rest of the start­ing lineup — all fresh­men and sopho­mores — could leave, as well.

While the NCAA spins that is­sue, its rules po­lice have spent plenty of time vis­it­ing Ohio State’s ath­letic depart­ment over the past sev­eral years. First, there was the fir­ing of coach Jim O’brien, who was found to have given money to a re­cruit, then later sued the school for wrong­ful ter­mi­na­tion be­cause he got the ax be­fore the NCAA had of­fi­cially de­ter­mined he’d done any­thing wrong.

Thad Matta cleaned up that mess and has led the Buck­eyes to the Final Four twice in the last seven years. Though the bas­ket­ball pro­gram has re­cov­ered nicely, the ath­letic depart­ment didn’t learn all its lessons: The foot­ball team is on pro­ba­tion be­cause of vi­o­la­tions that hap­pened dur­ing Jim Tres­sel’s ten­ure.

This week, of course, is sup­posed to be a cel­e­bra­tion of what’s right with col­lege sports. Yet it’s hard not to ig­nore some tid­bits that came up on the road to the Final Four:

Louisville spent the first two weeks of the tour­na­ment off cam­pus, not want­ing to fly back and forth to play games sched­uled by the NCAA in Port­land and Phoenix.

Last year’s cham­pion, Con­necti­cut, isn’t el­i­gi­ble to play in the tour­na­ment next year be­cause of NCAA aca­demic sanc­tions, though the school is ap­peal­ing.

This year’s Final Four coaches are mak­ing be­tween $2.5 mil­lion and $3.8 mil­lion this sea­son and will cash in on six-fig­ure bonuses if they win the na­tional ti­tle.

The NCAA hasn’t been as big a player at Kansas, but that’s not to say the Jay­hawks are im­mune to cor­rup­tion.

Last May, five ath­letic depart­ment em­ploy­ees and con­sul­tants got be­tween 37 and 57 months prison time for un­law­fully sell­ing foot­ball and bas­ket­ball sea­son tick­ets to ticket bro­kers and oth­ers, then pock­et­ing the money.

At Louisville, the NCAA didn’t get in­volved, but Pitino cer­tainly landed in the head­lines for all the wrong rea­sons.

His name was trend­ing for months while de­tails of his ex­tra­mar­i­tal af­fair and the en­su­ing ex­tor­tion trial were aired out in public. Pitino’s rep­u­ta­tion was dam­aged, and the woman who tried to bribe him to keep the thing se­cret got a seven-year prison sen­tence.

“A lot of times the last two years I took a lot of grief from a lot of peo­ple say­ing a lot of things,” Pitino said last week af­ter Louisville beat Florida to make his sixth Final Four. “And I never thought in my life I could turn the other cheek and just walk on. And I did.”

This week, Pitino keeps look­ing for­ward, re­fus­ing to take the bait from all those Ken­tucky Wild­cats fans, who may never for­give the 59-year-old coach for leav­ing them, head­ing to the NBA, then com­ing back a few years later to coach their archri­val.

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