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Monday, April 23, 2018

Timing of Kentucky, UConn Violation Reports Extremely Questionable

In less than six hours, UConn and Kentucky will tip off the second of two Final Four match-ups in Houston.  Jim Calhoun and John Calipari, two coaches who have hated each other for more than 20 years, will lead their squads in an effort to play for the National Championship Monday night.  Unsurprisingly, talk about the actual game has quickly been overrun by news about recruiting violations — excuse me, more recruiting violations.

Calipari and Calhoun run programs that drive college athletics purists insane.  Both coaches are no strangers to being accused of cheating, so they are certainly adept to handling any distractions that the latest news may cause leading up to Saturday night’s game.  In any event, we’re not here to go into the details of the latest accusations.  FOX Sports has an exclusive report about Kentucky that claims a former staffer made illegal contact with several recruits.  The New York Times spoke with former UConn recruit Nate Miles, and Miles is claiming Calhoun lied to NCAA investigators and actually knew illegal benefits were being provided.  The issue to me isn’t about the potential violations, but the timing of the release of the reports.

Is it a coincidence that both of these stories broke the day before the game?  You could argue that without violations there would be no story to break, but is the timing of such stories a moral issue?  Whether the stories are all valid or not, I can’t help but take issue with the fact that reporters go digging in the days leading up to big games.  Are they digging because they’re bored, because they truly believe the cheating should be exposed, or to take advantage of a tremendous opportunity to gain publicity?  My guess is all three are true to an extent.

In the case of Kentucky, the investigation has been ongoing for two years.  When discussing this topic with L.B., he raised an excellent point: how could Fox Sports have known the Wildcats would make the Final Four?  That’s certainly a fair argument, and it’s possible Fox just turned a corner in the investigation that gave them a chance to break it open.  It’s also possible they took a risk and knew if Kentucky did end up reaching the Final Four, the story would be that much bigger.

For UConn, the digging was less intense.  It sounds to me like someone reached out to Miles and he decided to talk about the subject.  I’m sure he was bitter after being expelled from UConn, and now he sounds willing to talk to the NCAA about the process of his recruitment.  While you would have to be extremely naive to think Calhoun had no idea his staff was committing violations in handling Miles, the story has pretty much run its course.  Calhoun has been suspended, the program has been penalized, and the Huskies are moving forward.  If Miles comes out and insists Calhoun knew there was some funny business going on, he won’t be telling us anything we couldn’t already infer.

Again, the timing is the issue.  Perhaps Miles agreed to talk once the team he aspired to join reached the Final Four, or maybe the Times went digging for the story in an attempt to strike while the iron was hot.  Whether the latter is true in this case or not, it’s no mystery that this is happening more and more with journalists each year.  Of course, cheating seems to have become more rampant throughout sports as of recent, but if writers and reporters are truly trying to play watchdog and practice responsible journalism, why sit on a story?  We have to wonder which is more important to the investigator: informing the public about a possible wrongdoing, or increasing their own popularity.

I’ll conclude this rant with one of the best examples of shoddy journalism we have featured to date here on LBS.  In 2007, the New England Patriots were caught cheating.  They filmed opponents signals from the sidelines and they had probably been doing it for years.  Plenty of evidence was available that outed the Patriots, and they had to withstand a media assault throughout the season — and still to this day.  Am I saying the Pats are victims? Hardly.  They cheated and were caught red-handed.  However, that should never be an invitation for journalists and media outlets to run irresponsible stories.

The night before New England lost to the Giants in Super Bowl XLII, John Tomase of the Boston Herald released a story alleging that the Patriots filmed the St. Louis Rams walkthrough before they defeated them in Super Bowl XXXVI.  The timing created a monstrous buzz, but there was one major issue with the story: there was no proof.  There is still no proof.  The story created a massive distraction and — for the time being — made John Tomase a household name.  Mission accomplished.

The most simple solution to all this would be for teams and coaches to stop cheating and just play the game.  While that will probably never happen, there’s no need for the media to take advantage of it.  The public has a right to know when teams are cheating on any day of the calendar year — not just those that are most convenient for the keeper of the story.

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