- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 23, 2009


The college basketball season is still about two months away, but it was a fun couple of weeks for Kentucky fans - or at least a vengeful couple of weeks. Rick Pitino, coach of rival Louisville and, more importantly, a traitor for life for having once bailed on the UK program for the NBA, was caught up in a sordid affair involving a woman, a restaurant order that definitely wasn’t on the menu, an abortion payment and extortion.

Then the NCAA last week announced that Kentucky coach John Calipari’s employer as of a few months ago, Memphis, had to “vacate” its 38 wins and 2008 national title game appearance (poof, gone) because of some funny business reportedly regarding Derrick Rose and the SAT. Calipari wasn’t mentioned in the sanctions, but he was the coach of record and the buck stops where?

Calipari thus became the first basketball coach in NCAA history to have two Final Four appearances “vacated.” It happened at Massachusetts in 1996 because Marcus Camby accepted cash and other benefits from agents. Calipari beat the rap on that one, too. But he was still the man in charge.

Given that backdrop, the Memphis news hit Kentucky fans hard because, after all, it further sullied Calipari’s ethical reputation and… oh, wait. No, it didn’t. Not at all. Support for Calipari among the Wildcats’ fan base has been nearly unanimous. Even Gov. Steve Beshear weighed in, saying he wasn’t worried “because they have never said Coach Cal did anything wrong.”

Actually, it has been whispered for years. But maybe Kentucky fans have a higher threshold for what’s considered “wrong.” After all, this is a program with a history that includes point-shaving and a major scandal triggered by a recruit getting a cash-filled envelope that spilled open. Nah, that’s not it. With its otherwise rich tradition (overlooking the backward ideologies of Adolph Rupp) and absent a big-time football program and pro sports in their state, Kentucky fans invest everything in hoops. Even thoroughbred racing is in trouble.

Calipari has a good chance to win it all at Kentucky. But maybe the results should be written in pencil with a large eraser or, as one scribe put it, the championship banner hung with Velcro.

Then again, why get upset? For college basketball, what happened at Memphis is pretty much business as usual. Getting caught was the problem. Coaches have become much more sophisticated in protecting themselves from the slime, and the envelopes are sturdier, too.

He said what?

“You see a Manny Ramirez, you see an A-Rod, you see Jeter. … Guys that I played against and with, these guys you’re talking about cannot compare.” - Recent Hall of Fame inductee Jim Rice

• Bob Cohn can be reached at bcohn@washingtontimes.com.

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