Somewhere within the money-making business that is the NCAA, there’s a glimpse of morality and principles in the Final Four.
Somewhere between the historic basketball programs of Kentucky and Connecticut and the Cinderella story that is Virginia Commonwealth, lies Butler — the undaunted team that improbably reached the last weekend of the tournament for the second consecutive year, led by the confident, classy, too-wise-for-his-age Brad Stevens.
Yet Brad Stevens’s greatest achievement is not that he’s guided Butler, a so-called “mid-major,” to consecutive Final Four appearances, but that he’s done so while maintaining the university’s and his own integrity.
Can you believe that, Jim Tressel?
Collegiate athletics is littered with coaches and programs in every sport that have been disciplined for violations of one kind or another, but Butler serves as a beacon of light. The university has never been sanctioned. Their coach has never been fined or suspended. Butler has been an exemplar. Their opponent on Saturday, Virginia Commonwealth, isn’t far behind. Though this will only be their first appearance in the Final Four, the Rams have enjoyed similar success. And like Brad Stevens and Butler, head coach Shaka Smart and his team have never been involved in pernicious allegations.
The same can’t be said about their Final Four counterparts, though.
While Connecticut head coach Jim Calhoun and Kentucky head coach John Calipari are widely considered as two of the best coaches in college basketball, they have both been linked to NCAA violations. If they were on an Internet dating site, Calhoun and Calipari would be matched instantly.
Calhoun was handed a three-game suspension earlier this year — one which he will serve next year — for recruiting violations committed under his watch. While he continues to play the ignorance card — citing an unawareness about these recruiting violations — I would think a head coach of his tenure would be aware of everything that goes on inside his program.
And Calipari hasn’t been any better. Though he hasn’t been personally indicted by the NCAA, it’s no coincidence that Calipari has been a part of two basketball programs that have had to vacate their Final Four appearances due to NCAA violations. After having his first Final Four appearance in 1996 expunged at the University of Massachusetts after it was found that his star player — Marcus Camby — had accepted money from an agent, Calipari proceeded to make the Final Four again a decade later with the University of Memphis. This time Calipari’s 38-2 record with Memphis was removed from the records because one of his star players was deemed ineligible after the player’s SAT score was discovered to be fraudulent and the school provided a player’s family with benefits that violated NCAA rules.
Calipari obviously didn’t listen to his parents when they told him two wrongs don’t make a right. I wouldn’t even be surprised if Kentucky had this year’s Final Four appearance vacated sometime in the near future.
But to say that Calhoun and Calipari are the exceptions would be fallacious.
Integrity in college athletics has been dwindling. Sanctions, suspensions and fines have unfortunately become the norm in the NCAA. Top athletic programs such as Ohio State University and the University of Southern California have recently faced sanctions for incidents involving players and coaches. And let’s not forget about the violations incurred by the University of Michigan under former head coach Rich Rodriguez’s reign.
It’s alarming that these same men who display such a lack of rectitude are allowed to continue to be in charge of leading and shaping a group of young adults. College is a time for development and maturation, but we shouldn’t expect much improvement from students whose models are coaches who consistently violate ethical codes. No wonder so many college athletes have been suspended of late.
But Butler and Virginia Commonwealth inspire hope. They have shown that middling athletic programs can hang with the “big boys” without violating the NCAA rulebook. They have shown that success can come without any allegations or suspensions. They have shown that integrity still exists in college athletics. And one of them will be playing for a national championship come Monday night.
So, please, don’t root for Butler and Virginia Commonwealth because they’re the perceived underdogs. Root for them because they do things the right way.
Steven Braid is an LSA freshman.