Archive for Sports

…because your desire to win trumps reason, morals, or any consideration of the impact of your actions.

Posted in Faux Elitism, Illiterate, Inconsiderate & Rude, Sports, Stupid Trends with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 27, 2011 by oooranje

Ordinarily, this would be about the Yankees and how George Steinbrenner’s extravagant spending basically destroyed the sport of baseball (yes, I know, Yankees fans, if he didn’t do it someone else might have blah blah championships blah blah Derek Jeter), but today, on the heels of news of John Calipari’s contract renewal, it’s about something else.

The reality, the unquestioned, unquestionable reality is that John Calipari has served as the leader of not one, but two programs whose performance reached new, unprecedented heights in near-record time, reached the Final Four, and then had to vacate entire seasons worth of wins – in both cases the most successful seasons in program history – due to a wide array of NCAA violations.  In fact, had it not been for Kansas’ miracle comeback, we’d be talking about a vacated National Championship (a regular occurrence in college football these days, sadly, but in basketball?).  That is unquestioned, unassailable reality.

Cut to 2011, in Cal’s second year at Kentucky.  A program that had been in the doldrums reaches heights it had not aspired to for almost a decade.  The turnaround is remarkable, especially given just how much difficulty Calipari’s squeaky-clean predecessor had winning at the same school.

Except that it isn’t.  I’m not saying that Calipari has cheated this time, and I’m not saying he hasn’t.  What I’m saying is that his blemished record makes it impossible not to consider the possibility that he has.  A collegiate basketball coach is hired not only to make the players on his team better, not only to recruit good, eligible players to his team, but also to serve as the front-line defense of the reputation of the university he coaches.  Therefore, a failure to ensure that one’s program is above the law is ultimately a failure to do one’s job.

Calipari has a history of recruiting athletes who, for whatever reason, commit NCAA violations.  To plead ignorance once – in the case of Marcus Camby in particular – may fly, but to twice have entire seasons vacated because of your inability to police your program or check out the validity of your recruits – that’s incompetence at best.  At worst, it’s complicit and concerted cheating.  Either way, it’s impossible to call John Calipari good at his job when this is the legacy he leaves programs.

Finally, when Jim Tressel’s athletes traded paraphernalia for tattoos – not even financial compensation – Tressel was ultimately fired because he knew about it and didn’t report it.  No seasons – let alone wins – were vacated as a result.  And a football team is 7 times the size of a basketball squad of 15.  Calipari has repeatedly demonstrated his inability – unwillingness? – to ensure that his teams consist of legal, valid, and eligible athletes.  He continues to recruit players (Enes Kanter, most recently) who exist in the grey areas of eligibility.  In short, his coaching style is unrepentant and unchanged despite the two near-death penalties which he has saddled former squads with.  The man does not care how his actions affect the sport.  And Kentucky, by hiring him, has shown that they do not either.

For their sake, and for the sake of college basketball, let’s hope the violations are over. Personally, I doubt it.

…you don’t think the Associates belong at the ODI World Cup.

Posted in All, Sports with tags , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2011 by oooranje

Lately there has been a significant uproar because the Cricket ODI World Cup organizers have decided, after two appalling opening results, that the Associates should no longer be part of the Cricket World Cup. The reasons seem pressing and unquestionable: it is embarrassing for both sides when the differences in playing ability are so marked as to make the games feel pointless and laughable. Kenya vs. New Zealand, in particular, is emblematic of this disease. It is sad but true that the latter team, a full ICC Member, is eons superior to the former team, a qualified Associate, and this showed clearly on the cricket pitch. Clearly, this day was a debacle for cricket everywhere and should never be repeated, right?

Wrong. Consider the basic assumption that goes into the logic for excluding Associates from the ODI World Cup going forwards: that it is unseemly and demoralizing for the Associates in question for them to be so completely beaten on the international stage, and that it is, in effect, better for everyone if they are kept from such defeats. Compare this to the reality of College Basketball’s March Madness, where teams clearly hailing from lesser funding, fewer scholarship players, and less competitive leagues go up against the titans of the sport: yes, the 16-seeds are routinely obliterated, yes 20- and 30-point margins, crushing victories without question, are common and a part of the equation. But anyone who has ever seen the faces of the ‘minnows’ of college basketball – Canisius and Coppin State and Mississippi Valley State – as they enter the arena for that hopeless game, anyone who has watched them win their qualifying championship with the full awareness that they are little more than cannon fodder for the big boys, anyone who has watched them play and give everything on the court just to keep the margin low, and seen them lose with grace and even joy, that person knows how untrue the ICC’s assumption is. The truth is that, even for minnows, even for the weakest team in the tournament, there is more respect given for being on the same field and playing on an even level with the greats, even if that means a crushing defeat, than there is in winning their lower division, year in and year out, never having the opportunity to really test their limits. Even more importantly, consider the impact that a single, Cinderella-type upset has on the sport: when George Mason went on its run in 2006, the entire event became charged, tinged with magic; those whose teams had long fallen by the wayside found a common underdog to cheer for, and ratings went through the roof.

Moreover, at a time when cricket has much deeper problems in terms of finding its place in the sporting world at large, when the Olympics has just accepted the short, Twenty20 format as a trial sport and thus opened the floodgates to worldwide cricket participation, it stands to reason that limiting the participation of teams that have consistently shown their class in the shorter format is tantamount to cutting the older, one-day game off at the legs. Top-flight, elite-level cricket is not harmed by the inclusion of some weaker teams – yes, New Zealand trounced Kenya, and others will likely do the same, but the same New Zealand team will also have to play Australia next, and Sri Lanka and Pakistan as well. Excellent, Members-only cricket will also be played at this World Cup, have no fear of that.

More to the point, not all Associates have proven themselves incapable of playing with Members: It took England 49 overs and 294 runs to beat the Netherlands, in what stands out as perhaps the most gripping match of the Cup so far. When that same Netherlands team did actually beat England at Lord’s two Twenty20 World Cups ago, it galvanized the world of Associates cricket, breathing new life into their play and opening up the real possibility of upward mobility in the cricket world. More than that, the shocking upset drew eyes to the sport that would never have watched it otherwise, mine included.

And yet, now, the ICC in their wisdom have ordained that neither the morale of the Associates, nor the health of the ODI game, nor the potential excitement of fans worldwide, is more important than keeping the scorelines tight, and the social calendar for full Members even tighter. This is elitism, make no mistake, and it runs the risk of seriously harming the game. It should not be allowed to continue.