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The NCAA’s Not Out To Get (Just) UK, But It Is Inconsistent

An interesting little story kicked up over the weekend and its exposed a big bit of inconsistency from the NCAA.  First, the backstory:

1.  Last season, John Calipari won his 500th game as a coach.  Kentucky honored him for the accomplishment.

2.  But Calipari has had to vacate two seasons worth of wins from UMass and Memphis due to NCAA sanctions and — according to the NCAA’s actual records — Coach Cal has only 467 wins, not 500+.

3.  Over the weekend, Jerry Tipton of The Lexington Herald-Leader broke the news that the NCAA’s committee on infractions had sent a letter to UK president Lee Todd asking the school “to publicly acknowledge that it was wrong to recognize” Calipari’s 500th win.

4.  UK is expected to let the NCAA approve the wording of its apology.  If the school does not admit the mistake and make changes to its media guides, etc, UK officials will have to go before the committee on infractions (and face who knows what).

5.  Kentucky officials said in April that “regardless of how the 42 victories are statistically noted, they did in fact occur.”  True enough, but such a stance practically taunts the NCAA’s committee on infractions.

6.  Apparently a fan of a rival school turned UK into the NCAA for recognizing Calipari’s previously kiboshed wins, which is weak in our view.

Eric Crawford of The Louisville Courier-Journal — not a man prone to believing that the NCAA is out to get Kentucky — hints in his latest column that that might actually be the case.

We like Crawford and we think this issue is getting way too much attention, but — and it’s a big but — Kentucky is at fault here.

Whether you like the oft-applied “vacation of past wins” penalty administered by the NCAA, it is an official NCAA penalty.  Like it, don’t like it, it counts.  (And let’s face it, if the NCAA went to something with more teeth than vacated wins, fans and writers would really scream about tougher sanctions.)

By ignoring the NCAA’s rulings regarding Calpari’s records, UK can be viewed as thumbing its nose at the NCAA.  Silly?  Not if you’re the NCAA’s committee on infractions.

The NCAA rulebook deals with a whole world full of slippery slope issues. 

“Why can’t a booster buy a kid a hot dog?”  Because the same booster might buy the kid a T-bone steak once a week if the rule is discarded.

“Why can’t a player sell his championship ring for a couple hundred bones?”  Because a school could set up a booster club to purchase rings and other collectibles from every member a team for thousands of bucks a pop.

On the big end, the NCAA’s rules make sense.  On the small end, they often seem silly.  But if the NCAA doesn’t cover the small stuff, then a loophole is created for the big stuff.

That same line of logic applies to the current Calipari case.  If Kentucky is allowed to say its coach has 500 wins — when he doesn’t — then what’s to stop Southern Cal from claiming the 2004 national title and all the trophies that went along with it?  What’s to stop Michigan from re-hanging Final Four banners from 1992 and 1993 that have been rightly taken down due to vacated records?

Now, in this area, we’ll concede a point to Crawford.  He states that UMass still flies a banner from its vacated Final Four year in ’96 — the one that Calipari can’t take credit for — and that Marcus Camby was credited at a recent ceremony for contributing to wins — the same ones Calipari can’t take credit for — that don’t exist in the NCAA history books.

The NCAA is correct to ask Kentucky officials to acknowledge past sanctions and penalties doled out by governing body of collegiate sports.  That said, it must make sure that all schools are abiding by those same rules.  Michigan and Southern Cal are.  Kentucky isn’t and it has been asked to make corrections.  Whether UMass has been asked to make corrections or not is anyone’s guess.  But it should be.

We’ll agree — to an extent — with Crawford on this point too:

“The NCAA does have a point here.  UK honoring Calipari showed a disregard for serious actions the NCAA took in the past against teams he coached.  I’m not saying the NCAA is wrong.  I’m saying it’s silly.  And inconsistent.  It should’ve left this one alone.”

Because of the “slippery slope” argument we made earlier, we disagree that the NCAA should have or could have left this one alone.  But we do think they are inconsistent.

When it comes to COI hearings, it’s hard to be consistent.  No two hearings are the same.  Just as no two criminal trials are the same.  But when it comes to schools acknowledging NCAA sanctions?  Well, that is an area where the NCAA can and must be consistent.

Michigan and Southern Cal and Kentucky and UMass need to all be living by the same rules.  In other words, it’s time for someone to send a letter to UMass about their Final Four banner.



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