Friday, June 03, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Fans share blame for coaches’ lies

Leader sports editor

The plausible deniability excuse has become so common for head coaches of major NCAA athletic programs, that they continue to use it even in the face of direct evidence to the contrary, and fans should not accept it.

John Calipari became famous for it when he used it twice as he also left UMass and Memphis in shambles for cheating scandals under his watch.

His counterpart at Louisville, Rick Pitino, trotted it out last year when his Cardinals were involved in a prostitutes-for-recruits scandal.

It’s garbage, and everyone not a major fan of the team in question knows it. They chide the coach and guffaw at how ludicrous of an excuse it is, right up until it’s the coach of their favorite team, and then he’s telling the truth.

Hugh Freeze at Ole Miss has taken it to a new level. It started with his famous tweet in 2013 challenging anyone with evidence of wrongdoing by his program to “bring it on.”

Now he has altered the comment slightly, but it still disregards the facts. On nationwide radio this week, Freeze no longer claims his program is clean, but says none of his coaches personally paid players.

Now there is evidence, highly publicized evidence, that an assistant athletic director paid players, but Freeze doesn’t know anything about that. All he knows is that he and none of his coaches have ever paid players.

Art Briles of Baylor, who is the only coach mentioned so far that hasn’t gotten off scott free, took a slightly different approach.

He handled the charges before they happened, by telling everyone he was going to bring in players of questionable character.

He continuously gave scholarships to high-risk athletes, and continued to turn a blind eye to their continued bad behavior, and called it Christian charity.

That didn’t work, but it is harder for a coach to say he didn’t know about repeated sexual assaults than it is to say he didn’t know his players were getting $1,000 hand shakes.

But the NCAA is toothless. Nay, the NCAA is in on it. In most of the recent high profile cases, it has either done nothing (e.g. Miami football, UNC basketball, Louisville basketball) or handed out minimal penalties for the sake of appearances (Syracuse basketball, Auburn football, etc.).

Cheating pays because winning pays and the NCAA knows it. The only thing that organization is passionate about is not sharing that pay.

It remains adamant that players don’t deserve any of the stratospheric profits because of the outrageous and ironic excuse that it would damage the integrity of amateur athletics.

It is probably true that in order to be a successful coach in a major college sport, one can’t have much integrity. But whose fault is that? There’s plenty to go around.

Fans are also to blame because we don’t really care about integrity, no matter how much we talk about it.

The evidence comes from how we flip the script between scandals happening to another team and happening to ours.

When our football coach, who happened to be the most successful in decades, turned out to be a scoundrel, it didn’t matter to a huge portion of fans because he won games.

We’re not really all that concerned with sacrifice when it means sacrificing things we really, really like, such as our favorite team going to the Sugar Bowl, or even college sports itself.

It would be interesting to know how many fans of NCAA sports signed the petition to boycott Target for their transgender bathroom policy.

Whatever the number, it’s a good bet that most of them will be on their couches, if not in the arenas, with brackets in hand when March Madness rolls around next year, even though the NCAA said it will not host any event in a city that does not have laws requiring exactly what Target did.

Thankfully in Arkansas, the blatant hypocrisy honestly doesn’t seem as bad as other places. There was an even bigger portion of fans who knew that Petrino had to be fired, and supported the decision.

The UA’s three major sports coaches have all been there for several years now without a hint of scandal. We can still be proud of that, even more proud than if they won more with no integrity.