NEW ORLEANS — Looking for those charming underdog stories? Go find the DVD from last year.
This year’s Final Four brings together an ensemble of big-name schools, all saddled with their typically big-time issues – a reminder that everything in college sports is not as pure as the NCAA and its “student-athletes” would like us to believe.
In the national semifinals Saturday, Kentucky plays Louisville and Ohio State meets Kansas. All the schools have made headlines for a variety of off-the-court reasons over the past several months, including the proliferation of one-and-done players, stories about coaches in courtrooms and a handful of financial misdeeds involving recruits, players, coaches and even ticket managers.
And so, while there are no little vs. big stories this year – the way tiny Butler or overlooked Virginia Commonwealth beat the odds last season to make it to basketball’s pinnacle – we’re regaled with tall tales of redemption and resurrection: Teams and coaches that overcame their problems and got everyone thinking about basketball instead of the underside of a business driven by a $10.8 billion TV contract.
“There are a lot of good players out there who are performing right now,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said.
For his part, Calipari is perfecting the art of luring a player for one, maybe two seasons, to contend for a championship, then saying a guilt-free goodbye. During his more candid moments, he’ll tell you he’s no fan of the rule that allows players to leave college after a single year. But it’s out of his hands. It’s the NBA that put in the rule stating players must be 19 before they can enter the draft.
What’s a coach to do?
“I think they trust that when the year is out, they’re going to get the right information and be treated fairly,” Calipari said. “They don’t worry about it. Historically, we don’t convince kids to stay who should leave. They are going to get the information, and they know that. They are just going to play basketball.”
It means freshman Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, both projected as high lottery picks, probably will be gone after this season.
This week, of course, is supposed to be a celebration of what’s right with college sports. Yet it’s hard not to ignore some tidbits that came up on the road to the Final Four:
• Louisville spent the first two weeks of the tournament off campus, not wanting to fly back and forth to play games scheduled by the NCAA in Portland and Phoenix.
• Last year’s champion, Connecticut, isn’t eligible to play in the tournament next year because of NCAA academic sanctions, though the school is appealing.
• This year’s Final Four coaches are making between $2.5 million and $3.8 million this season and will cash in on six-figure bonuses if they win the national title.