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Why Honor Calipari's Tarnished Legacy?

Sep 11, 2009 – 6:30 PM
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David Steele

David Steele %BloggerTitle%

John Calipari"The University of Massachusetts Club reflects the diversity, professional character, and camaraderie among distinguished alumni, and their pride and passion for the University.''

So says the welcome page on the website of the Boston-based private members-only club, consisting of "alumni, faculty, staff and friends'' of UMass.

And as far as the club is concerned, there's no need to edit that statement or re-consider its definition of "professional character'' or "distinguished'' based on who it was scheduled to honor Friday evening: John Calipari.

If it's all cool with the UMass Club, with UMass, with Calipari and with the basketball program besmirched under his tenure, then nobody really has a right to complain.

Except maybe the NCAA, whose disciplinary sanctions against its rogue programs apparently strike something far less than fear in their hearts. More like mild indigestion, after too many happy-hour cocktails at the ol' alumni club. But we'll get to them in a minute.

Coach Cal is one of the two guests of honor for the "Celebrate UMass Basketball'' event Friday. What's being celebrated most, apparently, is the 1996 Final Four team coached by Calipari. What might not make it into the remarks, by anybody much less Calipari, is the fact that the results that season were vacated by the NCAA after a scandal revolving around Marcus Camby getting paid by an agent. The fact that Calipari's next Final Four team, at Memphis 12 years later, also saw its position vacated because of an SAT scandal, likely won't come up either. However, Calipari's new book, Bounce Back: Overcoming Setbacks to Succeed in Business and in Life (co-written by David Scott, coincidentally a UMass alumnus), will get lots of play.

So good for Coach Cal, who despite the two egregious violations of the rules on his watch has yet to have any dirt officially rub off on him, and who has parlayed the Memphis success (so to speak) into the most prestigious coaching gig in America, Kentucky. He'll sell a lot of books in his old stomping grounds, spread a lot of goodwill and, apparently, soak up a lot of love, regardless of the price paid for him and the school to attain it all. It's not as if he would have, or should have, turned the invitation down.

Which means, also, good for UMass, which is proving it has either a short memory, a massive capacity for forgiveness, or an utter disregard for the means to the end, as long as the end includes a nice banner hanging in the field house. Whatever the case, the school has made up its mind on what the word "vacated'' means, and doesn't care what anyone else thinks it means.

But what could the NCAA be thinking right now? They're gazing upon this scene from Indianapolis, at all the back-slapping, reminiscing and book-signing in honor of a program the NCAA had to drop a huge hammer onto years ago. And it's happening in the name of the university itself (although, to repeat, this is a private club without official ties to Amherst).

What next, a parade in Dallas to honor the SMU football team that got the death penalty? A formal ball in Lexington to celebrate the day the overnight envelope stuffed with cash split open? A party at the Dillard's in Tallahassee during Florida State's homecoming weekend? A hot-tub bash at UNLV?

One can only guess what Memphis might plan for Calipari if (or when) the book tour comes through that town. Maybe a big fund-raising raffle, with the winner taking the next blue-chip recruit's entrance exam for him.

Heck, as long as you're going to spit in the eye of the governing body for intercollegiate sports, you might as well do it right.
Filed under: Sports