Fire John Calipari – A Nontraditional Program

Okay no, don’t literally fire John Calipari. His material is far too rich for him to leave the stage just yet. But in honor of the Fire Joe Morgan guys, the recent papal bull issued by the Kentucky basketball coach deserved some special attention.

 

Big Blue Nation, it’s time we learn and come to grips with the fact that we are not a traditional program. We haven’t been one for the last three years, and going forward, this will continue to be a nontraditional program.

This is pretty much the exact same opening script as the OT III Scientology video.

The 25-year-old model doesn’t work anymore. It is done and blown up. We are going by our own model now: the gold standard. Everyone has to accept that.

You know what this means? RON PAUL

We are going through things that no other program in the history of college basketball has gone through. No other program is losing five or six players a year. We are facing issues and having to make decisions with the thought of what’s next and where are we going, which includes our schedule.

That’s brilliant. This reminds me of that one time my friend’s sister got caught shoplifting, cried all the way home, then screamed at her parents “NONE OF MY FRIENDS HAVE TO GO THROUGH THIS!!!”. Incidentally, with a scholarship limit of 13, aren’t most college programs losing at least 3-4 players a year? And UK only lost two to early departure in 2010-11. Schedule the whole ACC! Everyone’s back!

When we schedule, there are three factors my staff and our administration must take into consideration: (1) preparing our players for the postseason, (2) our fans and (3) the financial component.

It’s almost impossible to read this without thinking that step 2 is “preparing our players for our fans” and step 3 is “preparing our players for the financial component. Which, if you think about Kentucky’s history, is exactly what you’d expect the process to be.

When we talk about preparing our players, we have to think in terms of protecting our players because no one has gone through what we’ve been through the last three years.

Again…um…two early defections in 2010-11? Coach? One of them was DeAndre Liggins? And no, Enes Kanter doesn’t count. Guys who were never eligible, you don’t get to cry over.

This is a players-first program, and you cannot put a young team into situations that is not fair to the players. In a traditional program, you can sign an eight-year deal because you may have the same team for three or four years and have an idea of what your roster will be. However, this is not traditional.

Following the logic here, apparently all “traditional” programs put their players into unfair situations. Ooh, those evil traditional programs, where everyone plays 25 games in the RPI Top 50 every season! How dare!

We will no longer have multiple contracts of longer than two years. Because of our roster turnover, it makes it difficult to lock ourselves into five home-and-home series. If we need to replace a team for a year or two, we will have the option to do that to protect our program. If eight guys leave and go in the first round, and we’re not the type of team that can play a ridiculously hard schedule, then we shouldn’t be locked into contracts we can’t adjust.

B…bbbbut UNFAIR SITUATIONS! What if you bring in the top 8 high school players and they all leave after their freshman year, coach? Aren’t you screwing your remaining players with that two year contract? I thought we were better than those “traditional” programs? One year contracts are what we need!

If the rule changes and we know we’re going to have the same team for three years, it changes how you schedule, but that’s not the case right now. We need the flexibility.

You know what would really provide flexibility? Half-game contracts. Yes, yes this is the answer. After all, what happens if we schedule a game against Ohio State, and Nerlens Noel is declared ineligible at the under-16 timeout? We need the flexibility.

With our nontraditional approach, we are using the entire season to prepare us to compete for national titles. It’s not just about winning as many games as we can win or playing as many home games as we can play. There are no road games in the NCAA Tournament. You are in a neutral venue, hopefully with more of our fans than anybody else, and they’re in big buildings. Why not prepare for that?

“Coach, didn’t you just win a national title after losing a true road game earlier in the season? Thanks, I’ll hang up and listen.”

Part of that means you’ve got to play in big arenas, you’ve got to play in football stadiums; you’ve got to do something to get them ready for a Sweet 16 or a Final Four. A lot of teams do not have that opportunity. We do, and we need to take advantage of it.

By this rationale, Syracuse should be ripping off titles every year. Or, for that matter, Kentucky, who plays in one of the largest basketball-specific arenas in the country.

In the past, we’ve always tried to have two non-guarantee nonconference home games added to our league schedule of eight home games. Now our league has added a ninth league home game, so we’re going to have at least one marquee nonconference game at home in addition to at least one on the road. Those will be TV games and be big games for us.

Wait, I thought EVERY game was a big game for Big Blue Nation? And I think we’ve finally found out the ugly truth — a home game versus Texas A&M might not make it on national television. I never saw that coming throughout this whole expansion process, I honestly didn’t.

Whether the game is played at Rupp Arena or at a neutral site, you’ll be watching us against the best programs in the country. The traditions of North Carolina, Louisville and Indiana can continue, but a couple of them may have to be at neutral sites.

Unless those programs are the best in the country, and they choose to not play the series at neutral sites. Oh, right…that’s why you’re wasting our time with this nonsense. Sorry, forgot!

It’s either we do that or we over-schedule and put our players at risk. Right now we’re locked into Louisville for a few more years, so that’s one of them. Where is the other one? We’re trying to walk through that now to see who it is and what we do.

Except the Indiana series could’ve continued…AT RUPP ARENA…next year. And could’ve been a two-year contract. How is that overscheduling, exactly? Are your players at risk because of the number of games, or the quality of opponent? Because, you know, last year you played Penn State and Old Dominion on a neutral floor (PREPARING FOR THE NCAA TOURNAMENT!), Radford, Portland, St. John’s, Chattanooga, Samford, Loyola, and Lamar at home. UALR on a semi-home floor. And…one true road game. If you’re worried about putting players at risk, surely they’re more likely to trip over the decaying carcass of a Samford player than get tripped up against Indiana or UNC.

In doing so, we want the fan experience in those games to be like it was in Rupp Arena last year against North Carolina, where North Carolina’s fans walked away and said, “Wow, that was a respectful group,” and “Wow, that was great.” That’s what we’re looking for. Why eliminate the opportunity to add a new home-and-home series to our schedule every two years?

I’m sure that’s exactly what the UNC fans were saying. So coach, your plan is to wow the opposition and then never let them visit again?

The good news is it benefits our donors as well as our fans that cannot get into Rupp Arena. For our K Fund donors, you will still have the best tickets and the best seats. For our season ticket holders at Rupp Arena, they will have the first opportunity to purchase tickets at the neutral sites. We will always have a minimum of 10 non-guarantee games with nine of those in Southeastern Conference play and at least one from our two home-and-home series. There will be times we have more, but never less, and our goal is to always have 19-20 home games for our season ticket holders even with the neutral site games.

The K Fund donors are no doubt ecstatic at the thought of having first option on driving 14 hours to New York to watch a neutral court game versus UConn. Or even better, first option to watch that neutral court game against Arkansas-Little Rock! I wonder how the donors and fans feel about watching those rousing games against Lamar and Portland. Surely they’d prefer some more exciting competition (since, after all, they ain’t gettin’ any in the SEC)?

More importantly, for the people who can’t afford to get into Rupp Arena or don’t have the opportunity to buy those tickets, they will now have an opportunity to buy all the extra tickets. Instead of 20,000 at home, we bring 40,000 on the road.

Wouldn’t that defeat the purpose of playing a “neutral site game” to prepare for the NCAA tournament? But I digress…

There is certainly a financial component to all of this.

No, really?

Our program, along with football, funds the other scholarships for all the other student-athletes on this campus. We are doing well throughout our athletics program, but we’ve got to remember that funding is important to every sport.

Yes, I’m certain playing two road games out of conference per season would kill off like nine women’s sports tomorrow. How myopic of us!

If we see an opportunity to generate more revenue for our program, we have to take it into consideration. If a neutral site game brings back more dollars for our student-athletes to succeed – whether it’s softball, swimming, tennis or gymnastics – we’ve got to explore that option.

I am 100% certain that this was the real reason behind all of this.

We cannot underestimate that the financial component is a part of it, but it is by no means an overriding part.

I…whatever. Sure. Let’s move on.

As we move forward in the coming weeks, we will let you know what our schedule looks like and who our upcoming opponents are. I think you’re going to be excited about it, but remember, we are a nontraditional program, so start thinking nontraditionally.

We need more information on this. “Start thinking nontraditionally”…we really need you to expand on this concept, coach. Should we expect games to start in August? That would be nontraditional…and bold. And probably guarantee wins! You don’t see anyone else playing in August! Only Kentucky!

When you talk about our schedule versus other programs, let’s take a look at the major conference programs we play like Duke, Indiana, Kansas, Louisville and North Carolina. Who are the ranked non-conference opponents that they played that were not in a made-for-TV challenge or tournament? Tell me who they played.

Great comparison. Indiana, for instance, played in a “made-for-TV challenge” against eventual Sweet 16 team NC State. On the road. And won. They also played Notre Dame (on a neutral site!), who ended up being fairly decent. Kansas played Ohio State (and vice versa. Jerk.) And while Duke played Ohio State and UNC played Wisconsin in a “made-for-TV challenge” (which apparently gets like six asterisks and three bleeding daggers in the record book), Kentucky played…St. John’s. In a made-for-TV challenge. I love this “made-for-TV challenge” complaint. Apparently Cal thinks those don’t count because they weren’t naturally conceived…or something? Like the teams just absolutely wouldn’t have played if they hadn’t been forced to by the evil schedulemakers. As if the coaches didn’t know “Yeah, we’re consciously playing Duke in this game”. Plus, didn’t Kentucky gleefully play Indiana the three years prior to this one when the Hoosiers were as far away from being a “ranked non-conference opponent” as possible?

Many of you argued with me two years ago when I said our five guys going in the first round of the NBA Draft was one of the biggest days, if not the biggest day in the history of our program. When you look back on it, those guys were miserable they didn’t win the national title. Ask any of those guys if they didn’t want to win the national championship in the worst way. They all wanted to win it. But by five of them being drafted, what it did to transform us into a truly nontraditional program, led us to this national title. Now I’m telling you we have to reevaluate our schedule to make sure we’re worried about our program and preparing us for that tournament that really matters. Believe me when I tell you, Big Blue Nation, we’re scheduling to maintain what’s in the best interests of our players and our program.

What he means is, “If those guys hadn’t all left, it’s likely we don’t have the nucleus of this year’s team, and therefore don’t win the national title, which then would’ve made me completely unable to argue this hysterically stupid notion of us being a ‘nontraditional program.'”

By the way, that team he’s referring to played THREE neutral site non-conference games. Surely they won the national title! Oh.

How can anybody say that I want to back away from challenges? When I was at UMass, I saw what John Chaney and Temple were doing and adopted the motto “any team, any place, any time.” My last year at UMass, we played 10 home games and 27 games away from home, and I carried that over to Memphis.

I thought your last year at UMass didn’t exist, according to the NCAA.

What, have I changed over the years? Do I get nervous in big games? Come on, it has nothing to do with that. I’ll play teams on I-64. We’ll close it down. I’m good with that. But this program is not traditional. This program is in a position right now that we must protect as we march forward to try to grow it to another level.

Playing teams on I-64 would almost certainly fall under “putting our players at risk.”

For all the Big Blue Nation, please do not listen to someone who has never coached or listen to media who are agenda driven for another program. That includes fans from other programs. Don’t listen to those people and have them affect how we think, because they have no effect whatsoever on how I think.

I was right, this IS the script from the OT III Scientology video!

We’re in this together and we will always keep the Big Blue Nation’s thoughts in mind, but I have to protect this program and these players. We’re not traditional and we’ve got to think differently than everyone else.

Sorry to break it to you coach, but “not playing road games” is hardly thinking differently than everyone else. It just means you don’t want to play road games. Or have your home court winning streak broken.

Loss of IU-Kentucky series temporary, unremarkable

We mentioned this a while back on HoopsHD, but it’s apparently official now, as ESPN is reporting that Indiana and Kentucky are halting their long-standing series due to an inability to determine game site locations. Eamonn Brennan has already gone to Defcon 2 over this, calling the ending of the series “ridiculous” and engaging in some righteous thrashing of Crean and Calipari over the impasse.

I understand Brennan’s take on this, but he really needs to calm down a bit. It doesn’t surprise me at all that we find ourselves at this juncture with this series, and anyone who was paying attention in the last 6 months has seen that we were headed this way. From Calipari’s original groundwork-laying comments back in December to the lack of NBA defections on the IU squad, this was almost a pre-ordained outcome.

From Kentucky’s perspective, they cannot be 100% sure what sort of team they’ll have next year. Unquestionably they’ll be talented, but the chances of Calipari meshing this group together in the same way he meshed last year’s national champs are very low. They absolutely can’t afford to take Louisville off the schedule, especially in the aftermath of a Final Four victory and the Cardinals being projected as a top-5 team next year. By dropping both Indiana and North Carolina off the schedule, Kentucky gives itself a lot of time to figure out who they are and what they can do as a team. Their SOS may suffer a bit, but their ranking should stay consistently high.

As for Indiana, it is a shame that they won’t get a chance to take this year’s squad into Rupp Arena, in what would’ve likely been a fascinating look at a young but talented team trying to win in one of the most hostile environments in college basketball. But like Kentucky, the Hoosiers are going to need some early-season reps to figure out how to mesh their existing pieces with talented freshmen like Yogi Ferrell and Jeremy Hollowell. The neutral court games that Indiana will get in the Brooklyn tournament (against Georgetown, UCLA, and/or Georgia) should do more than enough to give IU a taste of life away from Assembly Hall.

As for the idea that IU and Kentucky need to “grow up” and fix things…come on now. Who, exactly, should “grow up”? Should IU say “Yeah, sure, we’ll give up the financial and basketball benefits of playing a home game against Kentucky every two years just because that’s what Kentucky wants”? It does seem that UK is being a bit cynical in pushing for this neutral site game series, but they are well within their right to do so. As we mentioned last month, it does seem that UK pushed for the neutral site venues knowing full well that IU would never agree to the terms. And again, I don’t blame UK for that — they will have a young and inexperienced team, and probably would struggle against an IU squad that’s bringing everyone back. It’s hardly a petulant decision — it’s a basketball decision. And a financial one. Believe it or not, those things can and do take place in college sports all the time. It’s not always as simple as one side or the other taking their ball and going home.

Fear not, these two teams will play again soon, maybe as early as 2014-15. And I wouldn’t be at all shocked to see them play next year anyway, in the NCAA tournament.

UPDATE: According to Andy Katz, Kentucky offered to play the series solely in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. That revelation does nothing to change my thought process above. In case you haven’t noticed, Lucas Oil Stadium in basketball configuration is nothing like Assembly Hall, and Bloomington is a completely different community from Indianapolis. From a crowd standpoint and a buzz standpoint, the biennial IU-UK game is the single biggest event in Bloomington. That’s not something to easily surrender, and in fact local businesses have gotten irritated about IU athletics surrendering far less high-profile events (such as the IU-Penn State football games in 2000 and 2010). And lest you think UK was being gracious by not offering a return “neutral” game in Louisville, there’s the little matter of Kentucky not being allowed to play anyone but Louisville in the Yum Center.