by Kent Sterling
Kentucky fans are relentless in their love for Big Blue Nation, and their wild proclamations of physical and moral superiority are beyond debate. If you try to explain in a rational way why Kentucky’s winning should ring hollow, they lose their minds.
Arguing gun control or abortion is more fun than engaging with Kentucky fans in a conversation about the merits of Kentucky hoops, and how its coach builds its roster, but in an effort to be clear, I step back into the abyss of illogic and blue blindness.
The circuitous logic from Kentucky fans is much fun that of New Yorkers explaining why they live in the best city in the world, which is very similar to an Abbott & Costello routine.
- Me: What’s the best city in the world?
- New Yorker: New York
- Me: Why?
- New Yorker: Because it’s the best!
- Me: What makes it the best?
- New Yorker: Being New York makes it the best.
- Me: So New York is the best city because it’s New York?
- New Yorker: Yes!
- Me: What about Los Angeles?
- New Yorker: No, it’s not the best.
- Me: Why not?
- New Yorker: Because it isn’t New York.
With Kentucky, it’s the same thing. Kentucky is the best because it’s Kentucky. Anyone who dislikes the methodology that causes the success is an idiot, anyone who writes about it is a troll, and anyone who doesn’t worship at the alter of John Calipari is a hater.
Kentucky fans took exception to a lack of respect I articulated on Twitter today, and I promised I would provide the kind of explanation that can’t be expressed in 140 characters.
Let’s begin with a short recitation of those things for which I do not hold Calipari accountable:
- The one-and-done rule is bad for kids, so I don’t like it. The rule forces young men who have no interest in college to attend, unless they are willing to head overseas like Brandon Jennings and a couple of others have. The rule is for the benefit of NBA owners who were tired of paying first rounders to work out rather than play. They were even more disappointed when they had to pay max money to players a year before they would with the age limit as it currently exists. Calipari had nothing to do with the rule being enacted, but he has exploited it to his great benefit.
- I don’t blame Calipari for one and done kids not caring one way or another about their education. They are only in college because it leads to the NBA. Learning at the college level is not in the DNA of many of these kids. Let’s face it, most men on their way to millions aren’t concerned with Finite Math or East Asian Studies. That’s not an issue whose blame can be assigned to Calipari.
- Big Blue Nation wants wins. You win – heroic status is conferred. Lose – they come after you with torches. That dynamic existed with Rupp, Hall, Sutton, Pitino, Smith, and Gillispie. Calipari is just the latest to be held to a standard that has nothing to do with academics.
Okay, now we know what he isn’t accountable for – what are the things that rubs me the wrong way?
- Calipari “earns” $5.2M + bonuses as the head coach of a bunch of 19 year-olds who do his bidding while their professional aspirations are on hold. Is that against the rules? No. Is it Calipari’s fault that he is wildly overpaid, while his players can’t get a tattoo for an autograph? No. I didn’t say it’s his fault. I said it rubs me the wrong way.
- A disproportionate number of NBA bound players choose to attend Kentucky. That annoys me. Not because I don’t want Kentucky to win, but because there is no logical reason for it. No offense to Kentucky, but there is nothing that separates it from Duke, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan State, or any of the other top dozen programs. All those players decide to go to the same place. What motivates that choice is the question I keep asking. I believe I know the answer, but as is the case with many annoyances, I have nothing but anecdotal evidence – which isn’t really evidence at all.
- There is a trail of tears in the wake of Calipari’s stops at both UMass and Memphis. He was not cited nor disciplined in the NCAA decisions that led to two separate Finals Four appearance being vacated, but he was there. Does that make him guilty? No. What it probably makes him is real smart.
- Eric Bledsoe had some high school transcript issues that showed he took two algebra courses out of sequence, and despite being a poor math student, scored an A in Algebra 3 prior to taking Algebra 2. That’s a hell of a trick. Did Calipari have anything to do with that? No, but the NCAA didn’t find enough evidence to bring a penalty anyway, so what the hell is the problem. The problem is that lack of evidence doesn’t mean screwy things didn’t transpire. Again, annoying, not actionable. Pete Thamel and Thayer Evans wrote another report about the NCAA’s look into Bledsoe’s eligibility.
- There is also the friendship that exists between Calipari and World Wide Wes, the former runner who is now a consultant for Creative Arts Agency. He’s friends with a lot of NBA players, and other famous people. He’s a guy who gets things done for people. Wes is an interesting man with interesting connections. He was banned from the 2013 Midwest Regional by the NCAA. They even printed flyers with Wes’s picture on them for security personnel. Wes befriends college prospects at LeBron James Skills Academy. What he does after that, draw your own conclusions. Is there a rule that prohibits Calipari from counting Wes as a friend? No. Does it raise a reasonable level of suspicion? Depends on your perspective.
I could go on and on. The plantation mentality of college athletics is at the crux of my problem with Calipari. He profits greatly from a system that won’t provide a student-athlete a small stipend to pay for he and a date to grab a sandwich and see a movie. He operates within the rules, and then claims that because he’s within the rules, he is absolved of all blame for a system run amok. Very convenient, and I don’t like that either.
Kentucky fans on Twitter wanted to know what my problem with Calipari is. There it is. Just because the NCAA is unwilling or unable to find the reasons for which Calipari should be banished from college athletics doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
Today, those Twitter folks in Big Blue Nation said that they wanted to know how Calipari exploits the people he turns into millionaires. I would argue that the only person John Calipari has turned into a millionaire is John Calipari.