Thursday, May 28, 2009

Compare and contrast

As everyone up to and including the bacteria on the Jovian ice moon Europa knows, Mike Slive went down to Destin and this week's offseason SEC meetings planning to knock some football coaches' heads for their months of public sniping. And knock heads he did, because as hilarious as it might be to watch Kiffykins, Meyer, and Spurrier make like a gaggle of high school girls getting catty around their chosen table in the cafeteria*, the SEC isn't going to stand for that kind of lack of dignity or class or something.

Though it didn't go unnoticed in Kentucky or Tennessee, getting substantially less ink across most of the SEC was the goings-on in the Kentucky basketball program under new coach John Calipari. First, in an effort to fit his top-ranked recruiting class under the 13-scholarship limit, he told three Wildcat players they would no longer be welcome as part of the Kentucky program. Second, when it came to UK walk-on Landon Slone, Caplipari ... well, actually, he didn't do anything, but that's kind of the problem:
“When we got to the NIT, Coach Gillispie started talking to me” about a scholarship, Slone said.

That talk ended when UK fired Gillispie. New Coach John Calipari told reporters a few weeks ago that he would not have as many walk-ons as Gillispie.

“I asked several times to speak to Coach Cal to see what was in my best interests,” Slone said.

That meeting never took place.

Of his best interests, Slone said, “I think it’s starting to get very obvious.”

A meeting with an assistant coach led Slone to believe he should explore options, the player said.
Time for tweeting? Check. Time to give a good kid, a lifetime Kentucky fan and Kentucky native, the common courtesy of telling him he's not needed in person? Or even over the phone? No dice.

The always on-point Tru at A Sea of Blue** pulls no punches with what these developments mean for the program:
What he has done is effectively turn UK into an NBA franchise.
Not that the Kentucky administration would care, apparently, since all of those in-house shenanigans were just the prelude to the revelation that Calipari has now gone 2-for-2 in overseeing a major college hoops program that gets hit with major NCAA violations just as he walks away scot-free. At least he had the decency to be up front about those allegations with the Kentucky administration--who turned around and hired him anyway.

So I'm curious: what will Mike Slive do? How will the SEC press, which has so enjoyed working itself into a forth over its football coaches' wayward mouths, handle its new star basketball coach getting yet another coat of fresh skeeze? The message Slive and the pundits have seemed to want to get across in the face of the Meyer-Kiffykins-Spurrier trash talk is this: This is a league where we have some class.

As I've stated previously, that's fine. Commendable, even. But if the league and its media don't come equally hard on Calipari and the Kentucky administration for blithely ignoring the ever-growing record of malfeasance under Calipari's watch, for treating athletic scholarships like an easily-broken contract for services rendered rather than a vehicle for educating the athletes who receive them, for modeling a program after the tenets of professional sports rather than collegiate, they'll be sending a message much more serious than any ditherings about class or decorum: This is a league where it is acceptable to win at all possible costs.

Lane Kiffin has been a nuisance. But this past week's events have shown John Calipari to be something much, much more threatening for those of us who would like the SEC to stand for something other than cutthroat professional tactics and the trampling of academics for athletic gains. It would be nice of Slive and the conference's press started making the distinction.

*This post is Doug at the absolute top of his game, by the way. Read it or lose at life.

**Sorry, but I can't not say this: This, Alabama fans and bloggers, is how you deal with the news that your coach is oversigning and manipulating scholarships. 1. Admit the coach is "effectively pulling player's scholarships" and that denying it isn't being "honest with ourselves" 2. Admit you're not happy about it 3. Express support for the coach anyway, because "irrelevance" is too painful 4. Hope he changes. Isn't that easier than the endless pretzel-logic rationalizations we got last summer about how 15 percent of the Tide roster turned itself over "voluntarily"?

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