John Calipari: Smoke & Fire

May 28th, 2009
Memphis allegations don't help Calipari's reputation

Here we are, in the middle of the NBA and NHL playoffs, and yet UK basketball is still dominating the national headlines.

Too bad that those headlines aren't exactly brimming with positive news.

On the same day that former coach Billy Gillispie announced he has filed a lawsuit against the school hoping to collect $6 million, the Memphis Commercial Appeal has reported that Memphis is under investigation by the NCAA for major violations, including "knowing fraudulence or misconduct" on the SAT by a former player, as well as providing money to an associate of a player.

To make matters worse, it has been announced that prized UK recruit John Wall has pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for a breaking-and-entering arrest in April. Under the plea agreement, Wall will have to complete 75 hours of community service and stay out of trouble for the next six months.

All of a sudden, UK fans who were full of excitement a week ago now find themselves using that energy to vigorously defend their coach, as well as the integrity of their program. Think the folks just down I-64 who wear Cardinal red will make any mention of this during the annual UK/UL tilt this year?

In a released statement, the UK Athletic Department made it clear that Calipari was not named in the report, although he does plan on attending a hearing held by the NCAA to address the allegations.

"First and foremost, there are no NCAA allegations against UK Head Men's Basketball Coach John Calipari," read the release. "Coach Calipari was forthcoming with the University of Kentucky during the hiring process about any issues under investigation at the University of Memphis at that time. It is normal procedure for the NCAA to ask a former coach to participate in a hearing. Therefore, Coach Calipari will participate as requested."

So while it's still early in the process, it appears Calipari may not be facing any charges, despite the fact that these alleged violation occurred on his watch. However, when you examine this situation and compare it to the situation at the University of Massachusetts when Calipari left, you'll find some eerie similarities.

In both cases, the programs were accused of major violations after Calipari left the school. In both cases, Calipari has not been directly named or tied to the violations. And in both cases, skeptical fans find it hard to believe that these violations could occur supposedly with Calipari having no knowledge of them.

With the news of the allegations breaking on the same day that Wall pleaded guilty, Calipari's reputation appears to be catching up to him. And for an image-conscious program like Kentucky, you have to think the administration is sweating just a bit right now as this process plays out.

Calipari supporters, and UK fans, will be quick to point out that Calipari himself has never had any violations, and that Wall is just a young kid who made a mistake (over-zealous UK fans could probably justify signing Christian Laettner right now if they thought he could deliver victories). But a look at the big picture delivers a disturbing reality, namely that trouble just seems to follow Calipari around.

Now maybe there's nothing to this story. And it's possible that he knew nothing about his player's SAT scores, or payments made to a player's friend. But when there's a pattern of behavior, a pattern of near-violations and recruiting kids with criminal records, you have to wonder... how much longer before something sticks on Calipari? Is it just coincidence that the two programs he coached at have been accused of major violations under him? Or is there something more to it?

It's still much too early in this process to make any determinations, and it can't be overstated that Calipari's name did not appear in the report. So the possibility exists that he was in no way involved with this.

But where there's smoke, there's usually fire. And there's been a lot of smoke around Calipari's programs. As for the fire? We'll just have to wait and see.