Bob Knight understands all too well the motivation of the enablers who allow John Calipari to exist in college basketball.
Money, money and money.
“We’ve gotten into this situation where integrity is really lacking, and that’s why I’m glad I’m not coaching,” Knight said at an Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame fundraising event last week. “You see, we’ve got a coach at Kentucky who put two schools on probation, and he’s still coaching. I really don’t understand that.”
The schools are UMass and Memphis, each of which advanced to the Final Four under Calipari, only to have each appearance vacated after wrongdoing was uncovered.
Integrity and college basketball long ago parted company, if they ever were an item.
The television money, the 24/7 hype machine that celebrates the season and the monster that is March Madness all have increased the win-at-all-costs mindset.
The riches are too great and the failures so absolute that coaches will do most anything to secure the next blue-chip recruit, even if he is only renting him for a season before the prodigy rushes to collect a fat paycheck from the NBA.
That was the case with point guard Derrick Rose, the basketball mercenary who found his way to Memphis from Chicago but only after someone passed the SAT for him.
Calipari, of course, hides behind the veneer of plausible deniability. He did not know that Rose gained admission into Memphis with the help of a fraudulent test. And how was he to know that Marcus Camby was taking money from an agent while going through the student-athlete sham at UMass?
Calipari always has been able to stick to his see-no-evil gambit just enough to allow the next university president to gulp hard and nod in the affirmative on employing him.
Calipari plays this flesh-peddling game because so many others do it. And how else could mid-level programs like UMass and Memphis get into the homes of athletes who otherwise would be scheduling visits from the brand-name programs featured on ESPN?
Calipari no longer has a need to lug around an inferiority complex. As soon as he landed at tradition-steeped Kentucky - just a step ahead of the NCAA investigators descending on Memphis - he knew his days of having to perform gymnastics-like exercises to gain the attention of recruits were over.
Kentucky gives him a name-recognition value he did not have at UMass or Memphis. That is not to say Calipari will be able to resist the gray area in the recruiting process. He won’t resist it because there is always another Calipari-like competitor looking to move up the coaching ranks and ignoring the rules.
That Knight pointed his glare at Calipari is hardly surprising, even if Knight is one of the many ex-coaches receiving a paycheck from ESPN, whose principal role during the college basketball season often seems to be applying the genius label to those who roam the sidelines.
Knight’s candor is refreshing, even if it is way too late to save a beautiful but corrupted game.
If Calipari ever lands in trouble at Kentucky - and you figure the chances are fairly favorable - he will be seen running into the arms of the next suitor. That is college basketball. A coach can always outrun his misdeeds because of a university’s unyielding desire to fill its coffers.
That is the ugly sight of a game that inevitability is saved by the passion and spectacle of game night. It is the sight of cheerleaders, bands, rowdy fans and Dick Vitale working himself into a feverish pitch.
It is a game that sold its soul to the highest bidder long ago. It is not going back to a time that mostly exists in only Knight’s mind.
So Knight is left to shout down from his principled mountaintop.
But no one is really listening.