Knight nails problems in college ball

BY foxsports • December 22, 2009

My guess is Kentucky coach John Calipari probably won't earn the $50,000 bonus in his contract for graduating 75 percent of his players. Surely, star freshman John Wall won't be sticking around four years just to help his coach out.

There's a better chance Calipari will get the $175,000 bonus for taking the Wildcats to the Final Four this season, and maybe even the extra $375,000 for winning the national title. Wall's presumably brief stay at Kentucky could pay dividends for both coach and player.

That's really all that matters in Lexington, where boosters were so desperate to return Kentucky basketball to national prominence that they not only gave Calipari $4 million a year over eight years but added in incentives that could make him even richer.

So far, it seems to be working. Calipari's record is perfect so far, his team is ranked No. 3 in the nation, and Wall has committed to staying at least through the end of the season.

Then along comes Bob Knight trying to spoil everything.

The volatile former coach called out Calipari and the NCAA in a homecoming speech of sorts Thursday at an Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame fundraiser, saying he doesn't understand how someone who left two programs with NCAA infractions should still be allowed to coach.

Knight followed that Saturday with some equally strong remarks while doing the Xavier and Butler basketball game on ESPN with Brent Musberger.

``I think if the blame was laid right at the head coach's feet instead of putting the team on probation, put the head coach on probation rather than the school,'' Knight said. ``It would clear up a lot of things when the coaches know, hey, they're going to come after me if I screw this thing up.''

It's a simple concept, which is probably why the NCAA has never even considered it. Discipline the person running the program instead of the program itself and coaches might become more careful about what they do on the recruiting trail or inside the admissions office.

Of course, that might have cost Calipari his $32 million contract with Kentucky since Memphis was cited for infractions during his tenure there. Instead, the school was forced to vacate its Final Four appearance, the same penalty paid by Massachusetts after Calipari left there.

Calipari was not directly implicated in either of the violations, but they both occurred on his watch. Both also involved the biggest stars on each team, Marcus Camby at Massachusetts and Derrick Rose at Memphis.

Calipari didn't directly respond to Knight's remarks, saying only that he doesn't believe college basketball lacks integrity and that he remains a ``big fan'' of the former coach. That was probably a smart thing to do, since no one wins arguments with Knight.

Of course, Knight had his own share of issues while winning 902 college games, though most were caused by his inability to control his temper. Like him or not, he ran clean programs, graduated a ton of players and generally made young men better men by the time they left his employ.

Those don't seem to be the goals of most coaches these days, no matter how much the NCAA likes to promote the concept of student-athletes. They're employed to win first, with the understanding that the more they win the more they will make.

They seem to recognize that at Kentucky, where the bonuses to win are far bigger than the bonus to graduate players. Calipari can recruit one-and-done players like Wall without worrying much about taking a financial hit as long as they perform on the court.

It's conceivable that Wall could return for a second season at Kentucky. But that's about as likely as Calipari refusing to take his bonus pay if the Wildcats win the national title.

Wall was recruited to win games for one season, then head off to the NBA. His only real requirement as a student, Knight points out, is to pass six hours of class in the fall.

Knight has a problem with that, too. Call him old fashioned, but he believes that student-athletes should occasionally to go class.

Knight wasn't always easy to listen to as a coach. Most of the time he was arrogant, condescending and dismissive of anyone who didn't agree with him.

It's doubtful he's changed much. But, unlike other noted college basketball analysts, he's got the guts to say what he thinks is wrong with the sport.

It helps that this time he's right.

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Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org


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