NYT Dig At Calipari/Kentucky Just More Of The Same

Posted by jstevrtc on May 20th, 2011

Have you heard this one before? New York Times. John Calipari.

Shots fired.

[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.”

Calipari Is Characterized As Someone Who Devalues Education Because He Embraces One-and-Done Players, a Logical Fallacy Not Many Critics Will Own Up To

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.

The Kanter Case Was Controversial, But Not Scandalous.

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.

jstevrtc (547 Posts)


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12 Responses to “NYT Dig At Calipari/Kentucky Just More Of The Same”

  1. joe says:

    Winning IS everything!

  2. Andrew says:

    I suppose I don’t get the outrage over that quote. Reads to me like it could have been a very close decision between UK and Duke and the fact that Duke has superior academics was the deciding factor. Big whoop.

  3. Fred says:

    haters gonna hate….

  4. jstevrtc says:

    I don’t think anyone’s mad or perplexed that Irving simply chose Duke over Kentucky and academics were the supposed deciding point. What is not implied but actually stated outright in that NYT article is that either the author or Irving’s father (or both) felt that if you didn’t care about education, you went to Kentucky. It doesn’t say that Kentucky was the LESSER of two good options. It says Kentucky is the “don’t care about academics” option. That’s an insult to that school and that program, especially in light of all the recent evidence that proves that Calipari’s players do indeed care about their education (see Wall, Knight, Patterson, recently released team GPA numbers, Bobby Knight faux pas) that people seem to want to ignore. If the author/Irving didn’t mean that insult, there are many ways he could have written it to reflect that. He didn’t. And all any writer asks is that you take him at face value. On the face of it, the way it’s written, it’s an insult.

    John S. from RTC

  5. shavit says:

    “Duke has superior academics”

    Yeah, but they don’t. They have rich white kids and a reputation that an expensive private school automatically means a better education. UK is a good school, with quite a few really top notch programs. Duke has widespread grade inflation (which boosts the ranking) and kids with guaranteed jobs from their parents (which also boosts the ranking)

    The quality of the education is determined by how much work the student does …

  6. garik16 says:

    John, oddly i read it differently. I read it (as a Duke fan no less) as basically stating that Calipari gets players better prepared for the draft/NBA….but because of the education interest, they chose Duke.

  7. Scout23 says:

    It’s interesting that the “scandal” surrounding Enes Kanter wasn’t even a blip on the screen until Kanter decided against NCAA Chief Emmert’s school, Washington. ESPN”s employment of Knight, who has choked players, thrown chairs, and hit fellow coaches in the head during games, speaks volumes about ESPN’s stance and supposed “concern ” about Division I coaches’ character.

  8. Andrew says:

    Yeah, John, I didn’t read that inference into that article at all. The statement was that if academics wasn’t a consideration, UK would have been the choice. It doesn’t read that the only reason one would ever go to UK was because they didn’t care about academics, but rather that superior academics was the deciding factor in this one particular case. I dunno. Just seems like you gotta go out of your way to read that article as a knock on UK.

    And, aside from shavit, I’ve never heard anyone make the argument that academics at UK are better than at Duke.

  9. jstevrtc says:

    @Andrew: From my POV, it appears that you and garik are wanting to assume something meant by the author just to give him the benefit of the doubt. Reading the article with my interpretation requires no inference or assumption of any kind. It’s what is specifically stated. Reading it with yours requires an assumption of what MIGHT be meant. Incidentally, any thoughts on the Kanter thing I brought up in the article? Or the Len Elmore remark today? There’s much more evidence out there in the world regarding how everyone perceives John Calipari to support my interpretation of the author’s statement than any other. Everyone I’ve shown that article to has nothing to do with Kentucky, Duke, or the NYT, and they all read it as a dig. My two fellow co-editors here also saw it as such, and in fact sent the article to me since I was the only one with time to get up a post about it last night. Listen, we have no reason around here to go picking fights with the NYT or any other publication based on what they say about John Calipari or the Kentucky program. As I mentioned, we’re neither apologists nor defenders for either of them, so I wondering what the accusation that I’m going out of my way to “read that as a knock” is based on. There are a lot of other things I can write about besides someone taking a shot at Calipari. That’s a pretty low-hanging and ubiquitous piece of fruit, I think you’d agree.

    @shavit: I see what you’re saying, and I’d agree that a straight-A student at, say, Wisconsin is smarter than a straight-D student at Stanford (that’s an extreme example, people, so calm down). I agree that your education is what you make of it no matter where you are, but in terms of overall academic reputation, the Duke vs Kentucky comparison isn’t a close one. I’m not saying that all UK grads are inferior to all Duke grads, or that private schools are inherently better than public ones. Not at all. All I’m saying is that, in the ways that colleges and universities are evaluated (quality/pedigree of faculty, student body demos, attrition, etc) Duke will come out higher up the table. Again, I see your point — that theoretically nobody has academics superior to anyone else, because it’s what you do with the opportunity once you’re there. There’s a lot of truth to that, but I’ll have to agree with the other commenters here that by reputation and every objective evaluation I’ve seen, Duke does offer the chance for a superior education. But there are places better than Duke, by those same criteria, and one could do much worse than the University of Kentucky, certainly.

    Thanks for the comments, everyone, and keep ‘em coming.

    John S. from RTC

  10. Andrew says:

    I’m not giving him the benefit of the doubt, I’m just reading what he wrote. To paraphrase: the Irving family highly values education, and despite the fact that his godfather is an assistant coach at UK, he chose Duke because of the value placed on education. It may have been a clumsy couple of paragraphs, but I don’t take it as a shot. Sure, there have been plenty of other shots taken at UK/Calipari, but there are plenty of blatant out-and-out shots at Calipari that I don’t get the need of the Big Blue Nation to regard every reference to the UK basketball program with suspicion.

  11. Matt says:

    Blame here goes to the writer in my opinion. The fact that we can argue about this says the sentence isn’t clear. It’s not clear if it’s a quote, an inference, or just something in between. The writer needs to be much clearer, or it’s possible to read the quote either way.

    My personal *guess* is that it’s somewhere in between. I think it’s very logical that Irving would go to school at Kentucky if Strickland is his grandfather, so I can see how if Irving mentioned how big of a deal education was the writer made that leap. Duke, as a small, well-endowed private school has a lot of advantages over Kentucky (just like any smaller school where funding is available has an advantage over any large state school). If you put the two schools in a vacuum, I think a student would have more academic opportunities at Duke than Kentucky. That said, I think it’s irresponsible to make the leap though without asking the question.

  12. Denise says:

    I realize that Duke outranks UK on many academic lists, but we have to understand that there’s a history to the sentiments expressed here that goes beyond easy “but Duke is a higher-rated university” conversations.

    There is an underlying topic that needs to be addressed here, I think, and that’s the fact that historically, the state of Kentucky has been perceived as uneducated/ignorant/insert-favorite-derogatory-adjective-regarding-educational-background-here. These kinds of comments–unintended or not–have real ramifications for the perception of not only student-athletes at UK, but native Kentuckians. I say that as a Kentuckian who has multiple degrees from UK, in addition to a PhD from another institution. These comments, though explicitly directed at the “one-and-done” mentality that may or may not exist in some college players (and coaches), also implicitly continue to marginalize people from Kentucky. I also realize that there are very good reasons why people view Kentucky as a state full of uneducated folks, but these stereotypes need to be complicated by keeping in mind the actual people you subsume under your assumptions about a school and place.

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