Story/Photo By Ken Krayeske • 8:00 PM EST
Fans, elected officials, academics, everyone looks aside while Coach Calhoun marches with us to madness. It is time to prioritize academics over athletics. Maybe NCAA sanctions will help...
More reporters cover the University of Connecticut men's and women's basketball teams than cover the Connecticut General Assembly.
Dozens of reporters and camerapeople document the niggling details of the 35 or so college basketball players who generate $20 million annually, and nary a handful of journalists cover the 181 or so representatives and senators who appropriate $17 billion annually.
And yet, the two biggest stories about UConn basketball this year came from journalists who do not cover the Huskies regularly.
As the Huskies verge on a third national title, and Coach Jim Calhoun lays the legal groundwork to protect his title, don't expect the groupthinkers in the media horde to question the way the UConn athletic department dealt with the onset of these alleged violations of NCAA recruiting regulations.
The timeline, compiled from various sources, looks like this:
Early October 2008 - Yahoo! Sports reporters Adrian Wojnarowski and Dan Wetzel submit Freedom of Information Act requests to UConn, looking for state-owned cell phone records of various men’s basketball coaches.
December 2008 - The UConn athletic department retained the law firm of Bond, Schoeneck & King, a Kansas outfit known for work on NCAA issues.
January 2009 - 80 percent of the Yahoo! Sports story was done (according to reporting by Courant columnist Jeff Jacobs), but UConn stalled and delayed turning over the phone records central to the Freedom of Information Act requests.
March 2009 – Yahoo! Sports breaks the story about Calhoun and company allegedly committing NCAA recruiting violations. Shortly after this story breaks, UConn reports the violations to the NCAA.
Exactly when UConn president Michael Hogan learned of this remains a mystery.
But the men who run the UConn athletic department know. They earn hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to know. Sneaky they may be, but stupid, they ain't. They looked at the FOI requests, understood the implications of the phone records being sought, and battened down the hatches.
From these facts, we can infer that sometime in December, somewhere inside an office in Gampel Pavilion, Calhoun, UConn athletic director Jeff Hathaway and the associate athletic director Tim Tolokan listened to advice of their counsel.
Then they made a few decisions. First, winning basketball remained the number one priority. If they could win games, then this strengthened their position when the news hit the streets. No one backs a loser.
This cold, Machiavellian power calculus factored in Calhoun's raw political muscle, the years of winning and goodwill that he has built up, and they figured they could withstand whatever full court press, as it were, whenever the story broke.
Second, they would attempt to delay it for as long as they could, which meant that Yahoo!'s lawyers would have to threaten a lawsuit.
It's safe to say that the primary concern in Storrs was not disrupting the basketball season. My guess is that is the same atmosphere permeates the state capital, especially after legislative efforts to punish "Not a dime" Calhoun failed.
Legislators feel properly chilled from entering the arena after the Quinnipiac Poll said people think Calhoun could be rude the press and emerge unscathed.
No one wants to be the politician accused of derailing another run at the NCAA championship. When the season ends, then maybe the legislature will deal with it. Nor has Governor Grandma stepped in to scold the coach for cheating, either. No one in state wants to upset the title run.
In the meantime, someone instructed Rute Pinho over at the Office of Legislative Research to get some facts about that $12 million Calhoun allegedly brings in. And surprise, surprise, OLR betters Calhoun’s numbers, and claims that men's hoops is responsible for $14 million in revenue. See for yourself.
In the fiscal year 2008, the men's basketball program spent $32,690 on NCAA compliance. This figure is not enough, obviously, and it probably doesn't include the attorneys' fees for Bond, Schoeneck & King.
I find the recruiting scandal far more ethically damaging and morally bankrupt than yelling at a reporter. Perhaps we all should feel sorry for Calhoun: The coach got swindled by his former team manager, Josh Nochimson, who by the facts seems a sociopath.
Nochimson is accused of stealing at least a half million, if not more, from former UConn star Richard Hamilton. Don’t be surprised when UConn starts dumping on Nochimson once the NCAA tournament is over.
Calhoun didn't want to cheat, people will argue. Heck, the NCAA rule book is constantly changing. It's 508 pages long. How is anyone supposed to know that?
This is about the kids, people say. Those boys have worked so hard. These are the same boys who made some pretty bad mistakes, too. Calhoun has brought to campus thieves, sexual assaulters, and felons in the name of winning.
People will counter by saying he is giving kids from the ghetto a shot. But he graduates about one in four African-American basketball players. There are not that many Huskies who left early to go to the NBA right now to justify such horrible academic standards.
The University Office of the Provost shells out annually $162,247 for an Academic Advisor, and an additional $15,000 for an Assistant Academic Advisor and tutors, according to the OLR report. Clearly, the check has insufficient funds to help these players reach the promise of a diploma.
But we digress. The boys win. They practice. They sweat. They deal with a jerk coach. How can we take their run at the title away from them? It is such a rare thing, and we need to feel good in these hard times.
How pathetic are we? When did we lack the courage and fortitude to confront our own ethical and moral shortcomings? Welcome to Corrupticut, where he who cheats, wins, be it basketball or elections.
Here's a parallel universe of Connecticut. Calhoun and Hathaway realize they are caught. They understand the NCAA goes easier on those schools that self-report early in the violations process.
UConn jumps out in front of the corruption allegations back in December, beating Yahoo! to its scoop.
Calhoun, who has already admitted that players should receive a travel stipend, calls a press conference to blast the NCAA recruiting rules that are the problem. As the top-ranked coach, Calhoun takes on the NCAA establishment with the same vigor he took on this columnist.
He says the NCAA creates these arbitrary and capricious rules that fail to acknowledge the business aspect of his team, and thereby forces him, an educator and mentor, to associate with such unsavory characters.
With humility befitting a leader, Calhoun announces that UConn will punish itself, not waiting for the NCAA, the University, or the state government. Calhoun voluntarily takes a month suspension, and as painful as it is, to teach a lesson to all, he withdraws his team from NCAA tournament consideration for the year.
But alas, this is fantasy, getting in front the allegations would have risen to the level of integrity, something we will never see out of the UConn Athletic Department.
And furthermore, Calhoun doesn't have to take such measures, because he will escape unscathed. If the NCAA or the University comes down too hard on him, he retires, and his successor deals with the mess.
From a public relations standpoint, his strongest supporters will say he was set up, and he can't change his haters.
In the end, though, none of this will bring us any closer to publicly acknowledging the fact that NCAA Division I basketball is a minor league for the NBA, and the only way to clean up college basketball is to separate professional athletics from academics.
Yet nagging in my brain is the fact that Florida State, a top 20 team, boasts a 100 percent graduation rate, and North Carolina, a Final Four team, has an 86 percent graduation rate.