NYT Dig At Calipari/Kentucky Just More Of The SamePosted by jstevrtc on May 20th, 2011
Have you heard this one before? New York Times. John Calipari.
[That’s a favorite of the Twitterati.]
In Wednesday’s online edition of the New York Times there appeared an article written by Harvey Araton about Kyrie Irving attending the live NBA Draft Lottery rank-order show and about how Irving could go as the first overall pick to Cleveland. In the piece, Araton makes a point to mention that, according to Kyrie’s father, Drederick, Kyrie’s decision to leave school after a single college season (one in which he played in a mere 11 games due to injury) did not represent a “long-planned escape from the often unholy alliance of Division I sports and academia.” In other words, the father is asserting that Kyrie isn’t just leaving school early to avoid college nor is Kyrie abandoning his plans for obtaining a degree. The elder Irving is a financial broker on Wall Street, and Araton quotes him as saying, “Everybody in my family has gotten their degrees, their master’s. We value the education aspect of it with Kyrie.”
Here is Araton’s next sentence in the article:
“Had they not, Kyrie would have been with John Calipari at Kentucky last season, where [Kyrie’s] godfather, [Rod] Strickland, works as an assistant coach.”
Uh…beg pardon? Let’s make sure we got that straight. Using Araton’s own words, what he said there was, “Had they not cared about the education aspect of it with Kyrie, Kyrie would have been with John Calipari at Kentucky last season, where the godfather, [Rod] Strickland, works as an assistant coach.”
It isn’t clear in Araton’s piece if it’s the author saying that or if it’s a statement of Drederick Irving’s that Araton didn’t directly quote. We provided the link to the story because you should have the chance to read it for yourself if you want to do so. In our view, though, the only way to take that statement is that at least one of Harvey Araton or Drederick Irving feels that if you don’t “care about the education aspect” of being a student-athlete, then Kentucky is the school for you.
We know that there are some of you who will now take to your Twitter accounts and/or the comments section below (and don’t get me wrong, we love communicating with our readers) and offer a defense of the statement, citing that in publications like US News and World Report you can see rankings of undergraduate colleges and universities, and Duke always outranks Kentucky. We will stipulate that point, provided that you promise to go back and read that section as written by Araton, put yourself in the position of a Wildcat supporter or a graduate of the University of Kentucky, and tell us how you’d feel after reading it. Araton didn’t write that Kyrie was looking to attend the highest-ranked university possible, and he doesn’t qualify his statement by mentioning that things like a quality education and a master’s degree are also available at Kentucky. There is nothing to infer from what Araton wrote. It is stated outright. What he said was that if the Irvings hadn’t cared about the “education aspect of it” with Kyrie, the younger Irving would have attended Kentucky. You cannot fault any supporter or graduate of that college for feeling insulted. Even if this were a pro-Duke fan site or a student newspaper, it still wouldn’t be permissible. But that’s not where this comes from. This is the New York Times.
This represents yet another symptom of how, among many followers of college basketball and the media (of both the so-called old and new varieties) that cover the sport, the narrative surrounding John Calipari’s Kentucky program is widely regarded as one of skepticism and presumptive wrongdoing. Calipari is, in the eyes of all media and without any direct evidence whatsoever, guilty until proven…more guilty. Again, we can already feel the detractors who read this manning their keyboards, ready to tell us how Calipari previously coached at two schools and they both got slapped by the NCAA, ready to ask us how we can possibly say that there’s no evidence. We know about Memphis and Massachusetts and we’re not minimizing those incidences. But it’s incumbent on us and anyone else who talks/writes/blogs about college basketball to also acknowledge that Calipari possesses two letters from the NCAA stating that no evidence was found to indicate that he did anything wrong at either place. We’ve found that most people love talking about the first of those two points, but would rather avoid acknowledging the second. We’re not trying to tell you how to feel about John Calipari or Kentucky, here, and we’re not protecting, defending, or apologizing for him. If Calipari does something dishonest at Kentucky, we’ll have something up on it here and on Twitter within seconds of verifying it as true. All we’re saying is that it’s unfair to cherry-pick the facts that only support one’s chosen version of the truth, though this seems to be the norm when discussing Calipari’s program. Some pretty good professional journalists have sniffed around Lexington from the moment Calipari’s plane landed there for the first time in 2009. Whatever they’ve found has yet to affect the program. Maybe they eventually will find something, maybe they never will. One has to wonder, however, what they might find if they did as much digging at other programs, even those helmed by people whose automobiles and team charter planes are assumed to run not on fuel, but rather on pure righteousness. Perhaps we should simply first ask that they use a single standard to judge the actions of coaches and administrators as opposed to multiple ones.
If you’d like another recent example of this, you need go no farther than the newest edition of the ESPN The Magazine, which has an article about “The Most Scandalous Year In College Sports, Ever.” Calipari’s image does not appear anywhere in the article — but Enes Kanter’s does, even though his name doesn’t. What was scandalous about the Kanter-Kentucky-NCAA scenario? It was an important case that took a long time to adjudicate, but there was nothing scandalous about it. The word “scandal” implies that there is something shady going on, that there’s an allegation, whether right or wrong, that somebody’s doing something dishonest. Kentucky thought Kanter was eligible, but Calipari didn’t play him before getting a final ruling. The NCAA didn’t find in Kanter’s/Kentucky’s favor. That’s it. There’s no impropriety. Dishonesty never entered into it. Controversial, yes, but not scandalous. Nevertheless, there’s Kanter’s image in an ESPN The Magazine article about NCAA scandals, right alongside images of folks like Jim Tressel, Bruce Pearl, Cam Newton (for the record, the NCAA never attached anything to Newton), and Marvin Austin. The only reason he’s there is because the conventional wisdom among both fans and media alike — and in this case, seemingly ESPN The Magazine — is that John Calipari/Kentucky basketball + controversy = scandal. That’s not logic, it’s laziness.
Whether the insult, intentional or not, to anyone associated with the University of Kentucky came from Araton, Drederick Irving, or both, it arises from the preconceived notion that John Calipari devalues education at the institution(s) where he coaches because he openly embraces “one-and-done” players. Even though all other coaches gladly accept them and use them — and those who can’t get them would LOVE to do so — because Calipari has been the most honest about this aspect of coaching elite-level college basketball, he is seen as the symbol of what most followers of the game consider to be a huge problem with it even though he’s not actually responsible for the rule being in place. Araton and/or Mr. Irving have taken this incorrect characterization of Calipari and amplified it to the entire school, causing Araton to write what he wrote — that Kentucky is where you go if you don’t care about “the education aspect.” That it’s being compared to a Duke education is irrelevant, given the way Araton writes it. Bob Knight’s dislike of John Calipari (again, which stems from using one-and-done players that all coaches use) led him to commit a similar crime a few weeks ago toward some Kentucky players when he lied about a subject of which he had zero knowledge, specifically the class-attendance habits of some former Wildcat starters. Araton or Irving aren’t guilty of lying as much as they are of stacking up fallacy upon fallacy. The funniest part of this is that the perceived lack of care for education that either Messrs. Araton or Irving charge Calipari with having comes from Calipari’s welcome of one-and-done players. Yet Kyrie Irving, the kid at the center of this whole discussion, was a one-and-done player.
It would be interesting to find out whether or not the dig at the University of Kentucky as it appears in the NYT article is a bit of editorializing by Araton or a statement indirectly attributed to Drederick Irving. Either way, if no insult was intended, then an apology or at least a re-write is warranted. And we bet one will happen — right after all the coaches who say they hate one-and-done players pledge to stop using them, and right after every fan, writer, and blogger within the world of college basketball acknowledges that not a single coach in the sport — even John Calipari — is as good OR as evil as he’s made out to be.