Cash trumps class Dol­lars in­te­gral part of col­lege hoops

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. -

Bob Knight un­der­stands all too well the mo­ti­va­tion of the en­ablers who al­low John Cali­pari to ex­ist in col­lege bas­ket­ball. Money, money and money. “We’ve got­ten into this sit­u­a­tion where in­tegrity is re­ally lack­ing, and that’s why I’m glad I’m not coach­ing,” Knight said at an In­di­ana Bas­ket­ball Hall of Fame fundrais­ing event ear­lier this month. “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.”

The schools are UMass and Mem­phis, each of which ad­vanced to the Fi­nal Four un­der Cali­pari, only to have each ap­pear­ance va­cated af­ter wrong­do­ing was un­cov­ered.

In­tegrity and col­lege bas­ket­ball long ago parted com­pany, if they ever were an item.

The tele­vi­sion money, the 24/7 hype ma­chine that cel­e­brates the sea­son and the mon­ster that is March Mad­ness all have in­creased the win-at-all-costs mind­set.

The riches are too great and the fail­ures so ab­so­lute that coaches will do most any­thing to se­cure the next blue-chip re­cruit, even if he is only rent­ing him for a sea­son be­fore the prodigy rushes to col­lect a fat pay­check from the NBA.

That was the case with point guard Der­rick Rose, the bas­ket­ball mer­ce­nary who found his way to Mem­phis from Chicago but only af­ter some­one passed the SAT for him.

Cali­pari, of course, hides be­hind the ve­neer of plau­si­ble de­ni­a­bil­ity. He did not know that Rose gained ad­mis­sion into Mem­phis with the help of a fraud­u­lent test. And how was he to know that Mar­cus Camby was tak­ing money from an agent while go­ing through the stu­den­tath­lete sham at UMass?

Cali­pari al­ways has been able to stick to his see-no-evil gam­bit just enough to al­low the next uni­ver­sity pres­i­dent to gulp hard and nod in the af­fir­ma­tive on em­ploy­ing him.

Cali­pari plays this flesh-ped­dling game be­cause so many oth­ers do it. And how else could mid-level pro­grams like UMass and Mem­phis get into the homes of ath­letes who oth­er­wise would be sched­ul­ing vis­its from the brand-name pro­grams fea­tured on ESPN?

Cali­pari no longer has a need to lug around an in­fe­ri­or­ity com­plex. As soon as he landed at tra­di­tion-steeped Ken­tucky — just a step ahead of the NCAA in­ves­ti­ga­tors de­scend­ing on Mem­phis — he knew his days of hav­ing to per­form gym­nas­tics-like ex­er­cises to gain the at­ten­tion of re­cruits were over.

Ken­tucky gives him a namere­cog­ni­tion value he did not have at UMass or Mem­phis. That is not to say Cali­pari will be able to re­sist the gray area in the re­cruit­ing process. He won’t re­sist it be­cause there is al­ways an­other Cali­pari-like com­peti­tor looking to move up the coach­ing ranks and ig­nor­ing the rules.

That Knight pointed his glare at Cali­pari is hardly sur­pris­ing, even if Knight is one of the many ex-coaches re­ceiv­ing a pay­check from ESPN, whose prin­ci­pal role dur­ing the col­lege bas­ket­ball sea­son of­ten seems to be ap­ply­ing the ge­nius la­bel to those who roam the side­lines.

Knight’s can­dor is re­fresh­ing, even if it is way too late to save a beau­ti­ful but cor­rupted game.

If Cali­pari ever lands in trou­ble at Ken­tucky — and you fig­ure the chances are fairly fa­vor­able — he will be seen run­ning into the arms of the next suitor. That is col­lege bas­ket­ball. A coach can al­ways out­run his mis­deeds be­cause of a uni­ver­sity’s un­yield­ing de­sire to fill its cof­fers.

That is the ugly sight of a game that in­evitabil­ity is saved by the pas­sion and spec­ta­cle of game night. It is the sight of cheer­lead­ers, bands, rowdy fans and Dick Vi­tale work­ing him­self into a fever­ish pitch.

It is a game that sold its soul to the high­est bid­der long ago. It is not go­ing back to a time that mostly ex­ists in only Knight’s mind.

So Knight is left to shout down from his prin­ci­pled moun­tain­top. But no one is re­ally lis­ten­ing. Go, Wild­cats.

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