Cheering Against the SEC

I know we're supposed to rally around the conference in big games like this, but come tip off tonight in the national title game, I'll be cheering for Kansas. I'm only breaking ranks for one simple reason:

I hate John Calipari.

Now, by all reports he's a charming, likeable guy. Well, of course he is. Most snake oil salesmen are charming and likeable, that's how they get you to buy the stuff. But even if he is a wonderful person in his private life who gives freely to charity and walks old ladies across the street, that doesn't mean as much to me as the fact that he is destroying college basketball.

Now, this has nothing to do with Kentucky, and it certainly isn't jealousy. Actually, I think it's great for the conference that Kentucky is a dominant basketball power. Every year, UK gets crushed in football, and then turns around and exacts revenge in the winter on the hardcourts. What could be more fair?


It's not like as if Kentucky basketball suddenly ceased to exist, LSU would become a dominant hoops power. Of all the many things keeping our program mired in mediocrity, Kentucky's dominance is not among them. I usually do root for Kentucky in the tourney once LSU has loses. Why not? Let the Cats have their day.

And it's not like I've never had to pull for an unsavory coach or borderline cheat when cheering for Kentucky. They are like the Alabama of basketball. Sure, they win a ton, but they also seem to have only a passing familiarity with the NCAA rulebook. Rick Pitino, Tubby Smith, Eddie Sutton... we're not exactly talking about guys who have kept their careers on the straight and narrow. But none of them really made me hate them with the passion I reserve for Calipari.

See, even when Eddie Sutton was sending kids briefcases full of non-sequential bills, I don't think any of the Kentucky coaches were actively trying to destroy the game of college basketball. Sure, they might have cut some corners here and there, but who doesn't? Let's not pretend there's a single big time program without sin. Hey, Sutton got caught and he paid the price for it. Kentucky went on probation and he got shipped off to basketball Siberia in Stillwater (where he built a nice program again).

Which brings me back to Calipari. It's not just that he's a cheater who has put two programs on major probation (oh, sure, he claims not to have known anything about the off the court shenanigans, which I believe entirely. I think he's very good at turning an intentional blind eye). It's that he's a proven cheater who continually gets rewarded for putting teams on probation.

Cheat at UMass? He gets an NBA gig. And it's not exactly like he was Larry Brown in New Jersey. So after a near decade of sustained mediocrity at best, he returns to the college game and immediately puts Memphis back on probation.

So here's a guy who failed in the NBA and put two programs on probation. In a normal world, this guy would have a tough job getting another gig. But not Calipari. He gets hired by Kentucky, only one of the most storied programs in all of college basketball. He's been rewarded for a career notable for its failures more than its successes. It's just disgusting. I'm all for second chances, but this guy is on his third or fourth chance. There comes a point when we need to just look at the evidence and say "Wow. This guy is a total sleazeball. Perhaps we shouldn't let him coach at one of the five or six most high profile jobs in the sport."

But the greatest irony is that Calipari is doing his greatest damage to college basketball by doing something entirely within the rules. Calipari has embraced the destructive policy of recruiting one and dones almost exclusively.

It is important to repeat myself here: this is entirely and completely legal. Calipari is not breaking any rule by recruiting so many one and dones. My complaint has nothing to do with rulebreaking, it is that this is a destructive course for all of college basketball and it is ruining the game.

Hey, what does Calipari care? He's never shown any concern for anyone not named John Calipari. If he's advocating a policy which leads to worse basketball and less fan interest, what does it matter to Calipari so long as his team wins? He gets paid to win games, and he's demonstrated over his career that nothing else matters.

Which is great if you're a Kentucky fan. But for the rest of us, it sort of sucks. The one and done rule is destroying college basketball. It takes away all continuity from a program, reducing quality and making casual fans less interested in the sport. It hurts the second tier of programs as they can no longer sell the one thing in recruiting they had to offer that Duke and Kentucky couldn't offer: playing time. It's a system which perpetuates just a few dominant programs with less fan interest across the sport. It absolutely sucks for the health of the sport.

John Calipari is the champion of this model. Which is good for John Calipari, but terrible for fans of almost every other school. So, no, I won't be cheering for the SEC to destroy the sport of college basketball.

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