These must be trying times for sports enthusiasts. As if the rising cost of peanuts wasn’t bad enough, there is plenty of talk about how coaches are offering bounties to free your team of its star players. And, here I thought, bounties went out with the covered wagons and Larry King. Apparently, Gregg Williams has a lot of questions to answer, outside of those pertaining to the presence of an extra “g” on the end of his name. Apparently, college sports is not much of a refuge these days either.
Just in case your local mailman has a penchant for pilfering your weekly issue of Sports Illustrated, UCLA’s basketball program was dealt another public relations blow this past week by the magazine, citing a number of anarchistic revelations so damning that a Caesar might cringe at the full mention of them. The drinking, the fighting, the rule breaking: Either I misread John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success, or the new coaching geometry in Westwood has turned into a distorted rhombus.
There was once a concept of the UCLA way. That ideal now seems about as paradoxical as healthy dorm food. Stories about how the great Coach Wooden was for the most part able to reel in future Hall of Famers like Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton during times of great social change.
Ben Howland, in his ninth season, has become the longest tenured basketball coach at the school since then. He took over a program that had come off its first losing season since the Wizard of Westwood came to town in 1948, but soon had the team NCAA tournament-bound in a couple of years, then going to three straight Final Fours from 2006 to 2008. However following losses to Florida in the 2006 final and 2007 Final Four, as well as the 2008 defeat to (vacated), the program has seemingly plunged into the Morgan Center’s version of the abyss. It used to be that anything other than a national championship at the school was a failure, frowned upon by UCLA supporters in much the same way as my parents looked at me when I told them I wanted to have a career in sports media.