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Coaches shouldn’t schedule homecomings to nab recruits

One of these days, I’m going to walk into a job interview – maybe at a big metro newspaper out west – and make an odd request.

“I’d love to come work for your newspaper, but I need to cover one sporting event back home in Kentucky at some point. Just one.”

If that editor really wanted me in his newsroom, maybe he’d oblige. But would he do that for every reporter he hired?

That’s the comparison I made  internally when I learned of Kentucky’s rumored game in Portland, home of Terrence Jones, this November.

For the Cats, Jones is as good a get as Calipari has made this season, not necessarily because of strict talent but because of the team’s needs at the time of his commitment. UK needed a power forward, or it was going to be a four-guard, one-Turk starting five.

Jones eventually committed to Kentucky. And in the days after his commitment, word started to leak that UK was planning a game in the Rose Garden (home to the Portland TrailBlazers) as a detour between UK and Hawaii for the Maui Invitational.

Something about it all doesn’t work for me.

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It’s possible that this is a total coincidence. Maybe John Calipari has wanted to play all along in an NBA arena like the one in Portland. But considering UK has never played a game in the state of Oregon, that sounds unlikely.

Maybe this is all part an ambitious plan to play a UK game in all 50 states. Oregon would be a good one to cross off first, since it’s the most populous of the 50 nifty not to host the blue and white (Oregon ranks 27th in population; Oklahoma is next on the list, conveniently in 28th). But unless Cal wants to book a game a few years down the road at Sioux Falls Arena in South Dakota, or maybe at Taco John’s Events Center in Wyoming – that plan may not fly.

There’s no indication whether Calipari initiated the talks for a Portland game before or after Jones’ recruitment, and whether it was to lure Jones to commit to Kentucky or just an odd coincidence.

Regardless of the circumstances in this situation, could coaches start using such ploys as tactics in recruiting season? Could players start demanding a “home” game as a condition to sign his name on a certain school’s letter of intent?

It’s hardly different than hiring a prospect’s relative to lure him to your campus – a practice which some question when it happens across the country. Yet no NCAA bylaw has enforced against this practice (or against scheduling games in a recruit’s hometown). How could the NCAA patrol it all? None of it is illegal, none of it couldn’t be explained otherwise. If the NCAA had bylaws about situations like this, asking Calipari what the deal is with the Portland game, Cal could easily say, “It’s an NBA arena and we’ve never played there.” That would be that.

But how ethical is it? The industry of sport is so far removed from the rest of American business, maybe we shouldn’t apply standard-issue ethical standards. That isn’t meant to be a slight toward sports, as it may read; but a lot of things happen in sports that wouldn’t happen in any other business. That’s just how it is.

But even in college athletics, is this something that other coaches are OK with, and would consider doing themselves?

A program like Kentucky can play a game anywhere it wants with players from anywhere in the world, and Cats fans will show up. A program like Washington, which stands well-above-average in today’s hoops climate, wouldn’t fill as many seats.

Calipari – or Bill Self or Roy Williams – could tell his prospects that. It would be true.

On the recruiting trail, and when hammering out the next year’s schedule or filling out the coaching staff, coaches should leave it at that.

Follow me on Twitter, @pennington.jl.

Rose Garden photo courtesy of ethankhoa thru a Flickr search.

Article written by James Pennington