In light of the NCAA’s decision to vacate the thirty eight wins amassed by the University of Memphis men’s basketball team in the 2007-2008 season due to compliance violations, the question of how to hold coaches accountable for their actions once again comes to the fore. This was the second time around for head coach John Calipari, whose other appearance in the Final Four with the University of Massachusetts was also vacated because of his tendency to ignore the rules of the NCAA. Sadly, in both cases, Calipari was able to skip town for a big payday while the schools and players were left to deal with the consequences.
Back at UMass in 1996, after a meteoric rise to national prominence guided by Calipari, Minuteman star Marcus Camby was found to have been given $28,000, jewelry and prostitutes by boosters. Before the NCAA’s investigation was completed, however, the coach had skipped town for the riches of the NBA. This time, in Memphis, it was falsified SAT scores that brought the program down, as it was found that someone other than Derrick Rose had sat for Rose’s test. There was also a small matter of unpaid travel expenses on the team’s charter plane for Rose’s brother. But, once again, Calipari was gone before the sheriff could lock him up; this time to Kentucky.
It seems like an easy fix for the governing body of collegiate athletics but, all too often, easy is a synonym for impossible in the world of college sports. How difficult is it to impose the same penalty on the offending coach as the one handed down to the school? Can’t see Kentucky throwing $40 million at Calipari knowing it won’t be making a tournament appearance for two years. Nor would Memphis have hired him eight years ago if the UMass probation had still been hanging around his neck. Remove that golden parachute and watch how fast compliance becomes the focus of the program.
And what of the players that committed to the coach? While the NCAA professes to operate in the best interests of the student-athlete, it turns its back on the shenanigans of coaches whose actions have such a negative impact on the very athletes for which they are responsible. In Memphis’ case, the players who were lied to by Calipari must now continue on with a new coach and no chance to participate in the post season or transfer and sit out a year. Why not allow players to change schools and play immediately when they’ve been victimized by a coach’s misdeeds?
A decade ago, George O’Leary was hired as the head football coach at Notre Dame, only to be released a few days later when discrepancies were found on his resume. I’m wondering if Calipari will suffer the same fate at Kentucky. After all, he’s been hired as a coach that’s taken two teams to the Final Four while a quick look at the NCAA record books now indicates no such thing.