When Defense of an Icon Goes Bad

Note: this is not an attack on Calipari, who most of you know I'm not too fond of. While I do think that there are very valid criticisms to be made of Calipari both as a game-day and ethical coach, right now isn't the time to bring up those criticisms (because Cal has had a very good record of late, and is in the middle of his most promising season to date at Kentucky). So this isn't an attack on him or his character, but rather an attack on the notion of creating shadows to support an illusion.

I regularly visit a few of our SB-Nation SEC sites, the very popular A Sea of Blue among them. Typically I avoid most of the opinion articles there -- frankly, about half of them are complaints about how everybody is out against them and that nobody gives Coach Cal an ounce of respect, or how tough it is to be a team sporting multiple #1 recruiting records and the winingest record historically. (Which, were I a Kentucky fan at all I wouldn't mind, but as a rival? It gets a bit old.)

So it doesn't come as a surprise to me to see this response to an article written by an NBA contributor for SB Nation, Jonathon Tjarks. But, uhm. Do you really want this guy to be as aSoB commentator jc25 quickly points out "one of my favorite basketball writers"? Really?

The gist of the portion of the article that praises Calipari's honesty is that while he was rebuilding at Memphis he had Dajuan Wagner average 21 points per game and that Cal was the lean with him to go pro rather than return for his sophmore year for the Tigers. Three years later Wagner was diagnosed with a career-ending injury after garnering 8 million dollars playing in the NBA.

This just in: Cal is the only person to encourage players who are ready to play professionally to be one-and-done. "If he had played for a more traditional coach," Tjarks says, "Wagner might have nothing to show for his career... Calipari could have sold him on the value of a college degree and playing for the love of the game, but it's not really a game for the players Calipari recruits, it's life."

I don't think it's "dishonest" for Cal to recruit players who want to play in the NBA sooner rather than later, nor is it wrong to encourage a player to do what is in his own best interest (and in the interest of his family) rather than sticking around in college. But to suggest that the practice of funneling players to the NBA doesn't directly benefit Cal is ludicrous, and the notion that he is only encouraging these players to go pro out of the unfathomable graciousness in his heart is turning a blind eye to the very tangible benefits Cal gets by having 12 players drafted into the NBA over the last 4 years.

But the real issues that I have with Tjarks, and his article, is what you won't find quoted on A Sea of Blue.

College basketball is a multi-billion dollar business which explicitly forbids its players, many of whom come from inner-city neighborhoods where their entire extended family is trapped in a cycle of poverty that goes back generations, from receiving any money for their talents.

Indeed, this just in: training under a coach, access to state-of-the-art weight rooms and diet schedules, a medical team to keep you at the top of your physical capabilities, and, oh, a college degree certainly falls under "not receiving any money for their talents." While this touches on yet another issue of amateurism, it is ridiculous to say that a basketball scholarship to Kentucky is without any value. Indeed, 12 players over the last 4 years, and likely several more on this team, are going to receive millions when they put their name forwards for the lottery.

Still, none of these are my real problem with Tjarks, nor the reason that I find it appealing that any fan of any College would want to defend him just for writing some moral justification for your coach.

When your rationale for defending cheating comes down to

Ignore the absurdity of worrying about whether a 21-year-old college student would accept cash for playing basketball...


He was supposed to accept losing millions of dollars because he couldn't pass an ultimately meaningless test that would have no bearing on his professional career?

am I seriously supposed to think highly of you for defending a coach? Especially after you have preached about how much Cal cared about the players... that he promptly fled from in the face of scandal or a be$tt$er$ job$ of$fer? Calling any college coach "honest" when you say "Don't blame college athletes for cheating" is the height of hypocrisy: if cheating isn't wrong, then neither is lying and all morality is just subjective to the ends by which the cheating takes you.

Do you really want to be the ones defending the journalistic ethics of someone who writes that "No one would blame a physics student for cheating on the bench-press in order to pursue his chosen career, and no one should blame basketball and football players for cheating on upper-level math exams or plagiarizing graduate-level papers to pursue theirs."? I mean, this just in: you don't have to play in the NCAA to play in the NBA.

Look, rules exist for a reason, and whatever you want to say about the situation it ultimately boils down to the fact that rules were broken under Calipari's watch and, subsequently, he was punished for them with his two most successful teams having to vacate what they accomplished.

Of course, I suppose us Tennessee fans should breathe a sigh of relief, shouldn't we? I am certain that Tjark's article about how Bruce Pearl was a victim of circumstance and stupid NCAA rules is right around the corner, right?

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