If there ever were a time I'd love to hear Jim Calhoun speak publicly, it's today.
That won't happen, of course. The coach is dealing with a spinal issue that has forced him to miss Connecticut's past two games, so he's off-radar and presumably recuperating and/or being treated. Hopefully, he gets well soon because we need to hear from him.
We need to hear Jim "Not A Dime Back" Calhoun, of all stubborn souls, give voice to the remarkable groveling his university is doing on behalf of his basketball program to save it from a 2013 NCAA tournament ban. An Associated Press story Wednesday said UConn has petitioned the governing body of college athletics to change its rules and let the Huskies play in a tourney they're currently ineligible for.
I would love to hear the eternally unapologetic Calhoun feign penitence for the academic underachievement of his program – underachievement profound enough that it has the Huskies falling short of NCAA Academic Progress Rate minimums in order to be eligible for March Madness.
I would be fascinated to hear Calhoun, without reading a script through gritted teeth, toe the company line of concessions in exchange for the chance to play for the '13 national title. Those concessions include reducing the number of regular-season games from 27 to 23; forfeiting a Big East postseason revenue share; no head-coach recruiting off-campus in the fall of 2012; extra time in study hall; and a Calhoun-led tour of inner-city schools to stress the importance of education.
Listening to Calhoun pleading for UConn's postseason life would be like Bob Knight's Indiana news conference in 2000, when he half-heartedly tried to apologize for choking Neil Reed. The alternative was a firing, so he tried his best, but let's just say he didn't score too high on the contrition meter. It was just enough to earn another chance, but sure enough, Knight grabbed a student a few months later and summarily was fired.
But even if Calhoun himself never begs out loud, there is an easy answer from the NCAA to this request for an APR waiver from UConn.
The rules are the rules. Abide by them. Take the penalty.
Athletic powerhouses accustomed to getting their way try this kind of thing from time to time when they're facing sanctions – offer to cut off a pinkie toe yourself in hopes that the NCAA will spare the whole foot.
Ohio State just tried it in football – and still lost the foot. Now UConn is trying it in basketball.
It takes an impressive amount of gall for the Huskies to make this pitch.
We remember that UConn was on NCAA probation and Calhoun already had been suspended for three Big East games in 2012 when he cut down the Final Four nets last April. That left a bad-enough taste in America's mouth. Bargaining for another chance at glory while failing to adhere to a different NCAA policy is fairly brazen.
UConn president Susan Herbst put her best spin on this entreaty to the NCAA on Wednesday, calling the school's request for preferential treatment "a very compelling case" and saying UConn will be "deeply disappointed" if it doesn't get its way.
Herbst harped on the fact that the APR penalizes current players for the misdeeds of past players. Well, welcome to NCAA justice. It's not ideal, but it's the way of the college athletics world. USC, for one, doesn't want to hear your whining.
[Related: UConn asks NCAA to lift 2013 postseason ban]
Here's a suggested way for Herbst to handle it if the letter of rejection comes back from Indianapolis: Instead of railing at the NCAA, apologize to those current players. Better yet, have Calhoun apologize to them. They were let down by their school and their program, which for years didn't care enough to even meet the hardly rigorous APR minimum standards. (U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan last March: "The bar for postseason play is still too low.")
It's not the fault of the governing body, which enacts and enforces rules passed by its membership. It's the fault of an institution of higher education for failing to educate its most high-profile students. Own it.
I wonder whether Herbst was pained when other schools were falling short of the APR number. Did she grieve for the athletes at Southwestern Athletic Conference schools Jackson State and Southern when they were banned from competing for the 2011 SWAC football championship?
Perhaps she was, but I missed the comments. More likely, the APR is an injustice only when its UConn's ox being gored.
Bottom line: The biggest problem in college athletics is not football and basketball programs buying players or making deals with agents or treating athletes to under-the-table perks while in school. Those are major problems that need constant monitoring, but that's not the worst thing.
The worst thing is academic malfeasance. When athletes learn nothing away from the court, it corrupts the academic mission of the schools – the very reason for their existence.
Making a mockery of education while in pursuit of athletic glory should have consequences. And now it does, in the form of the APR and its penalties for underachievers.
There should be no bargaining to avoid those penalties, no switching the rules when the results aren't in your favor. Most of us learn that as children; hopefully UConn will learn it now.
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- Jim Calhoun