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The Start of Something? Or Nothing at All?

Cal did a lot of yelling in the 1st half to no avail, but the Cats pulled it together in the 2nd half. Photo: Hunter Mitchell

Here we go. This is the part of the story that opposing fans and some national media member have been waiting on. Since John Calipari was hired on as head coach of the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team, this is the moment of truth. Just about everyone outside of Lexington predicted that any success Coach Cal had with Kentucky would be tainted. He was “The Vacater,” a term of derision based on NCAA infractions that occurred under his watch at Massachusetts and Memphis. Though never personally implicated, everyone knew that John Calipari was dirty and when a dirty coach coaches at a dirty program… it’s not that hard to connect the dots.

But, a funny thing has happened. In the decade since John Calipari took the Kentucky job, there have been a lot of high profile programs running afoul of the NCAA. Some, like North Carolina, have received slaps on the wrists. And others, like Louisville, have seen wins vacated and NCAA titles forfeited. As of yet, nothing concrete has come down in Lexington, much to the chagrin of the same folks that knew that a Calipari/Kentucky collaboration was rife with NCAA rule-breaking. It would appear that the conventional wisdom isn’t all that conventional.

Big time college athletics is a dirty business. I’ve often said that any program is a bad decision away from being the lead story on ESPN’s SportsCenter and having the NCAA’s investigators on campus. I’m not naive to believe that any program is completely clean. While other programs have been hit with the NCAA hammer and other programs have been implicated by the FBI, the Wildcats have remained relatively untouched. Now that assistant coach Kenny Payne’s name has come up in testimony from disgraced attorney Michael Avenatti, the folks that need Kentucky and John Calipari to be the bad guy are ready for the other shoe to drop.

What if it doesn’t?

I understand rivalrying and all that. I get it. I know that a lot of folks put a lot of their “sports talking head” capital on the fact that it would be Kentucky and Coach Cal vacating titles and removing banners. To me, there are two reasons why I remain unworried about the Wildcat program:

  • With all the focus on Calipari and Kentucky, something would have come up. Pete Thamel went to Turkey to investigate Enes Kanter, leading to Kanter’s ineligibility. Pat Forde went dumpster diving to get information on Eric Bledsoe. If anything even remotely related to Kentucky would have been floating around, someone would have discovered it and published it. One would think that with Coach Cal being on the NCAA’s bad boy list, they’d be eager to nail him as well.
  • Over the last five years, Kentucky’s recruiting has gotten worse. While the Wildcats are still pulling in top players and the classes haven’t been out of the top 5, the Cats aren’t getting the elite of the elite. And a lot of those players are ending up in random places like LSU, Oregon and Oklahoma. If Kentucky were to cheat, I don’t think any program in the country could outbid for a player. The names and schools that are mentioned in the ongoing FBI investigation aren’t Kentucky players. And Wildcat assistant coaches haven’t been caught in wiretaps regarding money to be paid to players/recruits.

Obviously, this can all change. There could be video of Coach Cal or Kenny Payne giving a recruit a grocery bag of money. And I, for one, believe the system is broken and changes should be made independent of what the NBA does with its “one-and-done” rule. It’s just strange that as the majority of college basketball gets implicated in a multitude of scandals that even the fans and supporters of teams that get caught redhanded still want, still need, John Calipari to be the Boogeyman. To paraphrase Calipari himself: are you talking about what is happening or what you want to happen?

Terry Brown
Terry Brown
Terry Brown, born in Louisville, KY and raised as a Cardinal fan. Thankfully, he converted and bleeds nothing but Kentucky Blue. He currently lives in Louisville and spends his spare time chasing after his two girls, Sarah and Lauren. Terry is also on staff at and co-hosts Cats Talk Wednesday with Vinny Hardy on Blog Talk Radio, every Wednesday from 6-8 pm EST.

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