Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Coach & AD as gods!

Only in Kentucky!!! Eighty percent of the front page A-Section of the Lexington Herald-Leader of 31 March was devoted to the (gasp and four palpitations) possibility that John Calipari, basketball coach at the University of Memphis, is almost certain to leave that post for the newly opened similar position at the University of Kentucky, the immediate result of UK’s firing of Billy Gillispie, who was hired only two years ago to a seven year “memorandum of understanding,” with a current salary of $2.3 million annually. Okay, that sounds strange but the worthies involved, athletic director Mitch Barnhart and Gillispie, could…well…never get on the same page (sorry), thus sign an actual contract.

Result of such turmoil: The memorandum calls for a buyout worth $6 million to Gillispie, who has indicated that he expects to collect all of it. Who wouldn’t? Barnhart is reluctant about that, but he’s honored the “memorandum” for two years by paying Gillispie on the strength of it and – it would seem – hasn’t a Nike to stand in. Not to worry, citizens and taxpayers! The UK Athletic Department is not actually a part of the university. It is the fiefdom of Sir Mitch the Barn-hearted, fueled by cash from everywhere – tickets, donations, TV contracts (especially), student fees, and anywhere else a buck can be cadged, preferably legally but practically, in any way that presents itself.

Nothing new here, of course! The university has parted with some $1.6 million in buyouts of fired coaches since the 1990s and can well afford this bit of largesse, a surplus that might be confiscated for academic purposes, since well…isn’t that what education is all about? Added to this bit of economic nonsense is the fact that Calipari signed only last year with Memphis a new contract worth $3.35 million per year for five years. If he breaks it, will UK also pay the penalty for a walk-off-the-job excursion to greener pastures? This is what UK did when Sir Mitch broke his contract at Oregon State in order to come to UK, which anted-up $100,000 for the privilege of his expertise, recently exhibited in the “Gillispie Affair.” So…that’s actually $1.7 million in buyouts since the 90s, and, of course, an example of Sir Mitch’s hypocrisy.

Breaking contracts is the usual thing in university sports, and the athletic departments simply pay the freight, their way of condoning deviousness as a way to win. Since sports are reputed to be character-building enterprises as well as steroid-fueled athleticism, this seems strange but money talks when all else is silent, including morals, and winning means fat TV contracts, notwithstanding all the high-sounding rhetoric about the character-building.

Respecting which, UK has been on NCAA probation so many times in the last 30-40 years that such probation is noted as a guarantor of winning seasons (a badge of honor), though it didn’t help football that much, actually a minor sport, though, in Kentucky. Calipari, among other things, has also proven, not unlike lots of other coaches, that winning sometimes depends on the performance of thugs and hoodlums, often with graduation rates that are near the minus mark. The professional NBA looks with great favor – more importantly, at no expense – to the universities for its flesh market, whether comprised of hoodlums or not. They represent the NBA minor leagues.

What’s Calipari worth in the current marketing of young men to the public? Some have mentioned $35 million over eight years; others have mentioned $40 million over six years. There will be the usual perks – two cars, though maybe three in this case; country-club memberships; buyout clauses worth millions more, etc. His importance is so concrete that the paper devoted about 60% of its front-page story to a profile of just his forehead, nose, chin, and mouth, though not in its game-time screaming-mode.

Sir Mitch the Barn-hearted, terribly underpaid at more than half-million per year (automatic $50,000 per year raise) and therefore an example of extreme sacrifice (he may get only two cars free), explained the Gillispie firing as not occasioned by losing too many games, but by Gillispie’s not being the “right fit,” whatever that is. Actually, he tried to explain by indicating that Gillispie was too rough around the edges (indicated when he didn’t show up for a speech to the Rotary Club) and lacked diplomatic abilities exemplified, for instance, by his terse remarks to a lady sportscaster to whom he indicated that she didn’t ask the right questions and could therefore not expect answers…or something like that. One simply can’t offend lady sportscasters in this day of political correctness. On second thought, it might be worth $6 million to take the chance.

And so it goes.

Jim Clark

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