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Class Dismissed: John Calipari's Minor League Mentality

Apr 23, 2010 – 7:00 PM
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Terence Moore

Terence Moore %BloggerTitle%

John Calipari
Nothing causes more snickering among reporters than the scene before, during and after news conferences at the NCAA Tournament.

It goes like this: The moderator sits on the podium with the head coach of a given team and a couple of players, and whenever the moderator refers to the players, the moderator always uses the term "student-athlete."

Any questions for one of the student-athletes?

The coach will remain to answer any other questions you may have, but we will excuse the student-athletes at this time (you know, presumably so they can catch up on their studies of macro-economics as opposed to the fine art of dribbling).

Yaddah, yaddah, yaddah. Enough to make you want to jump out of your seat in the crowd and scream, "Student-athlete, my John Calipari!"

On Thursday, the king of signing one-and-done players got a commitment from Marquis Teague to join his NBA Triple-A team called the Kentucky Wildcats. Oh, and Teague won't play for Calipari during this upcoming college basketball season, but during the one after that. He's just a high school junior.

The same goes for fellow point guard Michael Gilchrist, who chose Kentucky for the fall of 2011 along the way to the pros by the summer of 2012.

This isn't to say Kentucky is one-and-done challenged now.

McDonald's All-American Brandon Knight already is close to having one sneaker out of the Wildcats' door, and he just committed to Kentucky this month. That was within days after John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe and Daniel Orton finished their freshman seasons with the Wildcats, dropped by a few classrooms on campus -- well, theoretically -- and then bolted to the NBA.


Yeah, right.

Just like the NCAA claimed recently the graduation rates for major college football and men's basketball players were higher than those of the general student population. It turns out that, according to a study released this week by the University of North Carolina's College Sport Research Institute, the NCAA got it wrong.

We're talking about 180 degrees wrong.

The NCAA's data included non-athletes who began as full-time students but who became part-time students, and part-time students take longer to graduate. Since scholarship athletes are required to be full-time students to keep their eligibility, they must be compared to full-time students.
75.7 percent of the general student body at 116 Division I colleges earned degrees during a recent six-year stretch compared to 44.6 percent of the basketball players.
As a result, the North Carolina researchers determined that 75.7 percent of the general student body at 116 Division I colleges earned degrees during a recent six-year stretched compared to 44.6 percent of the basketball players.

That study. Calipari.

When it comes to the student-athlete, this has been a double-dribbling sort of week for NCAA officials.

"The entire situation has been exacerbated, and it's just gotten worse," said Marc H. Morial, 52, in his eighth year as the president and chief executive officer of the Urban League, the nation's largest civil rights organization.

Prior to the Urban League, Morial spent eight years as mayor of New Orleans, and he was a state senator in Louisiana for two years before that. But he always has been a socially conscious sports fan. Said Morial, who had a brief football career at the University of Pennsylvania before getting a law degree at Georgetown, "I'm not the kind of person who doesn't believe in intercollegiate athletics. I'm a sports fan, but I'm also an advocate of young people being prepared for life.

"I understand that there are millions of kids out there who have financial needs and want to go to college but can't afford it. My e-mail box is flooded every week with [people] asking me to identify scholarship money for them. So these schools that use up a player for one, two or three years of athletic eligibility, and then they don't finish, it's just a system of mutual exploitation."

Yep, and hypocrisy.

While presidents, coaches and others around the NCAA yell about the student-athlete from one corner of their mouths, they whisper about the need to win no matter what from the other corner. I mean, they didn't just sign that $10.8 billion deal with CBS and Turner Broadcasting to have them televise study halls.

Tyreke Evans, Derrick RoseHere's another thing: Those basketball-obsessed Kentucky fans fumed over the mediocre regime of Billy Gillispie. Which is why university officials shrugged in the shadows after they hired Calipari in March 2009 and watched the new guy methodically assemble his one-and-done quartet. Not coincidentally, Calipari's first Kentucky team went 35-3 along the way to grabbing the SEC regular-season title and conference tournament and reaching the regional finals in the NCAA tournament.

Calipari also used one-and-doners at his previous stop in Memphis, where Tyreke Evans and Derrick Rose (pictured right, playing against each other in the NBA) made the Tigers rise in a hurry.

Courtesy of Rose and his associates violating NCAA rules, Memphis's trip to the Final Four was vacated. That means Calipari is the only coach ever to have such a thing happen at two different schools. One of his University of Massachusetts teams suffered a similar fate, but as was the case with Memphis, Calipari wasn't found guilty. He was unofficially known as John Calisleazy in the aftermath, but Kentucky couldn't care less.

The NCAA also couldn't care less.

At least, that's message the NCAA is sending through Kentucky officials by allowing Calipari and others to continue like this.

"Football and basketball are the sports that make big money for them, and because of that, the NCAA is naturally going to look the other way with a wink and a nod, and ignore what teams do," said Morial, adding that the Urban League will become more diligent in trying to convince the NCAA and universities to turn "student-athlete" into more than just their little cliché.

"Sure you have guys who make it to the pros [without college] or who play a year or so [in college], but they are rare. They are very rare. Go back over the last 20 years and check out those who bypassed college to play football and basketball or who didn't [get their degree]. What was the outcome?

"Where are they now?"

Who knows?

For those who say "student-athlete" when they actually mean "athlete-athlete," the question is: Who cares?
Filed under: Sports