Yesterday I spent a good deal of time in a conversation with a reporter friend of mine (yes, surprisingly they do exist) and the topic was whether Pete Thamel and other national reporters are out to “get” John Calipari. The reporter suggested that this was not the case and that the NY Times was simply going after a story and that the Bledsoe topic was a legitimate story worth pursuing. I said that this was conceivably true, but then laid out the two main allegations in the case:
1. Eric Bledsoe may have gotten higher grades than he deserved.
2. Someone outside of Bledsoe’s family may have given some money for rent so he wouldnt get kicked out of his apartment.
I said (and I do believe) that on those two topics, you could probably find a player on every team in America who would be guilty of those sins. Going back to my high school, Middlesboro High School in the 13th Region of Kentucky, both could have been in play. Even though my basketball team was tremendously awful (but did have me in big goggles sitting on the end of the bench), we all believed that the players on the team were given “passing” grades by a teacher here or there to keep them eligible. And we were awful. Is it a shock that a star player at a high school contending for a state championship might get a “Gentlemen’s C”? This is HIGH SCHOOL! Every grade is subjective and the notion that the New York Times can come in an make any sort of viable judgment as to whether a student “deserved” a grade is silly. Here is a little secret….Athletes sometimes get grades they dont deserve…and it happens at every high school in America, from Oak Hill to Red Bird. Thats just the way it is.
And the second point is even more obvious. I would venture to say that in every school in America, there is some poor student who has been given help by those in the community. As a matter of fact, not only do I believe that it happens, I HOPE FOR THE SAKE OF HUMANITY IT HAPPENS! How could you justify seeing a kid living in a $400 apartment get kicked out on the street to live in his car or to have no place to go? We arent talking about paying for tricked out cars or jewelry with bling…we are talking about a $400 a month apartment! If you were a family member, friend or Christian in the area and had the ability….wouldnt you help that kid? I know of many kids in Middlesboro who were helped financially here and there by parents of other classmates, teachers and leaders in the community. Why? Because they were good people. If the NCAA Compliance Director (and interestingly, the New York Times reporter) lived in the area, maybe they wouldnt help a kid like Bledsoe pay the rent…because it would be an “improper benefit”. But for me, humainty extends beyond NCAA rules.
The reality is that the New York Times story on Bledsoe on Friday night could have been written about a kid at virtually any school. And yet it wasnt. It was written about a kid at Kentucky and a kid coached by John Calipari. Like Jerry Tarkanian in the late 80s and early 90s, John Calipari is the new “gotcha” target of the national (and some local) media. The difference is that unlike Tarkanian, the NCAA and the national media have no direct violation or even an NCAA allegation against Calipari as a coach. But nevertheless, the media believes (as do many fans who are uniformed, including this one at one time) he does things the wrong way and they are out to get him…no matter what. If that means going to a school in Birmingham, getting his academic transcript illegally (and I have much more to say on that later), making inferences about academic fraud with no facts and characterizing the payment of rent by members of his community as an illegal benefit, well so be it. They have to get Calipari and be the reporter who catches the white whale. Pete Thamel and the New York Times are the latest example, but it has occurred before and more will continue in the future. Calipari will be held to a standard that no other coach in the country could meet and because of inferences about him based on history, reporters will look for any way to get him, columnists will critique him with holier than thou attitudes (see John Clay and Rick Bozich today) and every minor story will be marketed as a statement about his character (see the UK GPA story). He is, and will remain target #1.
Years ago, Jerry Tarkanian faced similar scrutiny from a much less all-encompassing media and said “forget it, I am going to the NBA.” If the hunt continues (and it most certainly will), how could you blame Calipari if he one day made the same decision?