Rarely have I read an NRO article so outrageous, so offensive, and so beyond the pale of civilized discourse as Andrew Cline’s anti-Kentucky screed in today’s home page. If I were not a strong believer in free speech an the “right to be wrong,” I’d call for an immediate, Limbaugh-style sponsor boycott of the New Hampshire Union Leader (Cline’s employer).
Not that I’m biased, but I grew up fifteen miles from the epicenter of the basketball universe (Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky.), my childhood revolved around my beloved Cats, and as a grown man I had to wipe tears from my eyes when Darth Vader (Christian Laettner), playing for the Evil Empire (Duke basketball) hit the shot that crushed the spirit of millions of Kentuckians. Tears rolled again — this time for joy — when UK achieved sweet revenge with a record-setting comeback in 1998.
Cline seems to think it would be good for the NCAA if Kentucky — an overwhelming favorite in this year’s tournament — lost. Nothing could be further from the truth. A victory over Kentucky would merely advance the NCAA’s chosen (false) narrative: that its system works and that small bands of virtuous student-athletes can do anything (by golly!) when they band together and hustle hard enough. It’s that underdog triumph narrative that feeds March Madness, enriches one of the most exploitative institutions in America, and provides the financial backbone for the status quo.
Kentucky, by contrast, rebels against this exploitation by offering its athletes the best deal in college basketball — a premiere national showcase for their talents, training in a pro-style offense by a former NBA coach, and the opportunity to build a fan base even before they can sign their first endorsement deal. “One and done” is the rational decision of a kid who’ll make more money in his first two years as a pro than most college graduates will make in a lifetime. You can hate on Kentucky all you want, Andrew Cline, but John Calipari will just go on living the Golden Rule.
If Kentucky cuts down the nets in a little over three weeks (and I really, really hope they do), it will cause hand-wringing for those who believe in “student-athletes,” “amateur athletics,” and unicorns, but those of us who appreciate excellence and honesty will bask in the triumph.
And if we can beat Duke along the way, that’s just gravy.
(Update: I’ve gotten a couple email messages asking me why I’m so angry at Andrew. I’m not — the tone of the above post is supposed to be over-the-top faux outrage. Apparently some folks aren’t used to sports-related trash talk. I do, however, think Kentucky takes the right approach to the absurd NCAA regulatory structure by maximizing opportunities for the athletes.)