Calipari, Krzyzewski and the Fraud of College Basketball

Anyone who has followed the war of words between iconic Duke University head basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski and the University of Kentucky’s very successful but far less revered John Calipari, should be disgusted with not just them, but with the entire system of intercollegiate athletics.

Krzyzewski has used as a recruiting tool the benefits of becoming a Duke student, telling potential Blue Devil players that once they enroll at the university, they will have a lifetime of benefits, basically telling them they are set for life, regardless of their success on the

court, or more importantly, in the classroom. This did not sit well will Calipari, who saw this as a line of bull, worthy of a second-rate con man extolling the virtues of his snake oil. Caliperi’s response included the following:

“You may buy that, and I’ve got some great property and some swampland in Florida to sell you too.”

Calipari went on to say that all he and the University provided was an opportunity, that it was then up to the individual recruit to make the most of it:

“And that’s what we’re trying to do, just give these guys the best opportunity. We’re not trying to say this university or this state will take care of you the rest of your life. There’s no socialism here. This stuff is, ‘You’ve gotta go do it and we’re gonna help you do it.’”

In what world is Calipari the more legitimate spokesman for college basketball than the revered Krzyzewski, rumored by so many to have mastered the ability to walk on water, and all that other mythological stuff? Why, in the world of NCAA-ruled American intercollegiate sports, where academia takes a back seat to the big-time riches provided by broadcasting and shoe contracts, where Krzyzewski, can give away a student’s space at one of the country’s great universities, and apparently a lifetime of benefits that goes along with it, to an NBA-wanabee who has as much interest in attending class and receiving an education as do the grains used in Duke University Medical School’s famed rice diet?

The war of words between these two coaches is only one recent sign of the basic, inherent, pervasive problems in college basketball, problems that will at some point not too far in the future blow up the sport and all who today are in power, from NCAA officials to high-profile coaches to university administratorss and athletic directors to network executives to the most powerful few who have made billions of dollars touting multi-hundred-dollar shoes, and it can’t happen any too soon.

The first real sign of what is coming was the announcements late last year of the FBI probe that resulted in bribery indictments of four assistant basketball coaches from high profile schools, including Auburn University, Oklahoma State, the University of Arizona, and of course from the usc Klown Kollege. Some may have missed the fact that also indicated and arrested were a half dozen others including professional player agents, a former NBA referee, and high-ranking executives from adidas, one of the two biggest selling basketball shoe brands.

Fallout from the indictments and release of information was the firing of another semi-iconic college basketball coach, Louisville’s Rick Pitino, who had amazingly withstood numerous previous personal misconduct allegations, including public sexual activities in a restaurant with the wife of a Louisville University athletic department employee.

All this is superimposed on the background of the NBA and the fact that college basketball has become NOTHING more and a free minor league for the NBA, where talented athletes are given a spot that should be provided to a an actual student, for the purpose of playing

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ball and of ignoring any semblance of education as they coast through a single minor league season of games, readying themselves for an NBA career and a multi-million dollar professional contract, as the school reaps in the benefits of multi-million dollar shoe and broadcasting contracts.

Almost three years ago I wrote “Can or Should College Basketball Save Itself?”, premised on this statement:

“College basketball has become a joke and is a disgrace to the college and university system. Semi-pro athletes, taking space from actual students, use institutes of ‘higher education’ as one-year stopping off grounds to prep for their anticipated professional careers”

It has only gotten worse since, and the remedy I suggested then is even more appropriate today. That remedy is a means of returning universities to the job of educating, and let professional sports leagues pay for their own minor leagues, as baseball has always done. The solution, as I wrote in 2015, is simple:

“Solve the real, basic problem by requiring that all students seeking admission to any given college or university must meet the same admission standards as to grades, SAT, ACT, references and activities and give no special dispensation to any applicant, just because he (or she) happens to be seven feet tall or can dribble behind their back. Return to the ideal of the real student-athlete, students first, athletes second; kids there to learn and prepare for life, not for the NBA. Let the NBA create a real minor league (none of that “Development League” phony crap), as baseball has historically had. Let the NBA pay to develop players and not swoop in and steal the benefits of that year or two of college experience, at no cost to them. The league and their billionaire owners can afford it, much more so than can the schools. The kids who enroll in colleges and universities, play ball for a year or two, and virtually never step foot in a classroom, do not belong there, period.”

College is college, it is not a proving ground for non-students seeking get-rich professional contracts. Return to the day of the student-athlete and let the professional leagues train their own stream of new talent, at their own expense.

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