According to the poll we posted on DimeMag.com after NCAA Tournament overall No. 1 seed Kansas was knocked out by Northern Iowa over the weekend, Kentucky is the overwhelming favorite to go the rest of the way and win the national championship.
Going into the tourney, that distinction was a toss-up between a handful of high seeds. What wasn’t really up for debate was which team has been the most polarizing from a love/hate standpoint: Even taking out perennial winner Duke, it was Kentucky by a Derby mile.
Whether it’s their almost unfair reservoir of talent, old bitterness renewed for a program that had been down for a few years, or just general dislike of first-year coach John Calipari, I ran into more Kentucky haters this season than I knew existed. Even on my end, I found myself rooting for UK to lose a few games along the way, just because a lot of zealous Wildcat fans I encountered needed a big “Settle Down” pill to balance their system.
But another reason people don’t like Kentucky now is the same reason they don’t like Barry Bonds, the New England Patriots, and Tiger Woods: Cheating.
I’m not at all accusing Calipari or those who work for him of anything at Kentucky — I’m a fan of his from my few professional interactions with him — but because he built a legacy at Memphis and UMass where programs under his watch got in trouble for significant NCAA violations, he knows full-well that the watchdogs are on him. He has a reputation now. And by going to a tradition-rich school like Kentucky, where there are plenty of rich alumni who really want (and expect) the Wildcats to win national championships, the potential for some rule-breaking booster activity is higher than with, say, the Cornell team Kentucky is going to play in the Sweet Sixteen this week.
Because of Cal’s history and because he immediately built a powerhouse upon arriving in Lexington, Ky., a lot of people would like to think he’s doing it dirty.
Whether that’s true or not, the larger issue, if you ask me, is how we should look at NCAA violations and the system in general. As I’ve written before, I think a lot of NCAA rules are outdated, misguided, too easily misinterpreted, and sometimes just silly. College sports are currently more of a business now than a bastion of pure amateurism — and that business thrives on marketing, money, and maybe bending if not breaking the rules at times.
Knowing that, I’ve talked to more than a few college fans who admit they wouldn’t feel bad if their team won a national title thanks in part to cheating. Some of them take the “Everybody else is doing it” approach of teenagers who smoke weed; others believe the rules are too harsh in the first place and don’t mind a little harmless disobedience.
What’s your opinion? Do you think the NCAA has the right idea, or is it time to re-evaluate and potentially overhaul the entire system? And would it bother you if you knew your favorite school was cheating under the current rules, and just wasn’t getting caught?
Tell us what you think, and we’ll print some of the best answers in an upcoming issue of the magazine.
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