Some Thoughts on the UConn Crisis
I'm willing to bet that, if you're reading this blog, you had a conversation or two about the Huskies over the grill or by the pool or at the beach (in Rhode Island, of course) over the weekend. It certainly came up with me, and the reactions by UConn fans were fairly predictable: "I can't wait 'til the NCAA goes after Kentucky," and, "These kind of things go on with almost every major program in the country." Those types of things.
While I have no idea whether there any probe into Kentucky's program is in the works (I've heard the rumors, but that's all they are -- rumors), I tend to agree with the latter comment. It's a pretty safe bet that many of the indiscretions UConn is accused of -- impermissable phone calls and text messages, dealing with unsavory characters (like Josh Nochimson) in pursuit of recruits, doling out a few extra tickets to AAU coaches and recruits -- probably happen at numerous other programs around the country, to varying degrees.
How rampant is it? No idea. But these things assuredly go on. UConn, however, became the target of a couple of journalists from Yahoo ! Sports, and got caught. Did these writers have it in for UConn? Again, no idea, but several people who've been around the program in different capacities for years swear that at least one of the writers has vowed to get Jim Calhoun for some 15 years now. Well, he got him.
Here's a parallel that might work: a football player using steroids gets busted by Mark Fainaru-Wada in his never-ending, exhaustive investigation into PED use by athletes. The player knows lots of other guys (maybe nearly every other guy) are using, but what's he going to do? He got caught, and he's got to take his medicine (so to speak) and move on. No sense finger-pointing and saying, "He's using, too!" That just comes across as babyish. (And, lest we forget, maybe most other guys aren't doing it -- just like with the NCAA. Maybe the vast majority of programs are squeeky clean. We just don't know).
So there's really no point in whining that everybody else is doing it. UConn got nabbed, and it must suffer the consequences. There's no excuse for breaking the rules, even if some of them seem rather minor and, possibly, the definition of some of the rules wasn't clear to begin with.
The biggest thing that stands out to me in this whole process is the scrutiny that UConn gets. Not long before the allegations against UConn were announced, Yahoo ! Sports reported that a high-ranking member of the Kansas University athletic department and the father of a prominent Jayhawk athlete allegedly made more than $800,000 in a ticket-scalping operation that was orchestrated by hoops power brokers David and Dana Pump. That could get real ugly.
And has anyone noticed what's going on over at Providence? Over the last month, three players have been booted out of school: two of them for allegedly beating up a fellow student for no apparent reason other than they felt like beating someone up, the other, we've been told, for involving some underage kids in some illicit activity in his dorm room (let's just say the player supposedly had a female friend who was very, umm ... giving). We hear Keno Davis (who just lost a key assistant, Pat Skerry, to Pittsburgh) was one of only two coaches not at the recent Big East coaches' meetings, for what it's worth. (Rick Pitino was the other).
Look around, though, and it seems it's UConn that gets the bulk of the focus by the national media. Or how many national writers have essentially rung the death knell for the Huskies' program over the past few days?
I have a few theories on this. For one, UConn is a major program that is held to a higher standard. That's why its alleged indiscretions make the ESPN scroll, while you see very little time devoted to Providence. (Seriously, can you imagine the media firestorm if three UConn players had been expelled from school over the past month? Calhoun may have lost his job).
Also, Calhoun has rubbed a lot of people the wrong way over the years. Now, as things look bad around him, many media types who have never particularly cared for him are sharpening the knives.
Finally, I truly believe the fact that UConn's location leads to a lot of its publicity -- bad or good. It's proximity to ESPN (and its location in the East Coast media market, less than two hours from New York City) helps make UConn one of the most exposed programs in the country. Why do you think seemingly every ESPN anchor knows Stanley Robinson's nickname is "Sticks," yet probably couldn't tell you more than two starters from Gonzaga, or even UCLA? Why do you think Calhoun appears on Mike Francesa's show seemingly as often as Joe Girardi? Why do you think fans still -- still! - to this day chant "Where's my laptop?" at UConn games, and why Calhoun's rant at Ken Krayeske made national headlines for several days?
Bottom line: UConn almost certainly did wrong, and must pay the piper. The general consensus is probation, loss of a scholarship, certainly recruiting restrictions are in the offing. It's already cost Patrick Sellers and Beau Archibald their jobs. Maybe the penalties will be a little stiffer.
But UConn definitely seems to get scrutinized and criticized on a national level far more than other programs. And if that sounds like a homer talking, think again: I didn't grow up a UConn fan and still am not, but rather an impartial beat writer who covers the team. I was born and raised in Rhode Island and lived there for 37 years. If I were a "homer," I'd be defending Providence's program -- which no one in their right mind would do at this point in time.