John Calipari, hero anti-NCAA crusader?

NCAA Men's Championship Game - Kansas v Kentucky

Those who oppose the NCAA as an old-fashioned, draconian regulatory body designed for the sole purpose of maintaining profit-driven financial control over a highly valuable workforce are praising yesterday’s comments by University of Kentucky men’s basketball coach John Calipari, who addressed a basketball-related change in NCAA rules that will allow college players to declare for the NBA draft and, if invited, attend the NBA combine before they have to decide whether to withdraw from the draft in order to maintain their collegiate eligibility as follows:

Met with our team today. Told them that during the season it’s about the team and sacrificing for each other – which they did this year. When the season’s over, it’s about each individual player and what’s right for them and their families.

With that being said, every player who is eligible for the draft, including our walk-ons, will submit their names for the NBA Draft in hopes of being invited to the combine in May. The new rule states they can submit their name a total of three times. If they choose to withdraw, they have until 10 days after the combine. It’s a true win-win for the student-athlete.

Just so you know, having every kid put their name in the draft is about all players getting the right information. Players not invited to the combine know what that means. Players invited to the combine and told to go back to school know that that means. As I said, it’s a win-win for the student athletes. I like the rule.

(Emphasis added.)

On one hand, Calipari is right to encourage his players to gain as much information as they can about their professional prospects, especially where there is no penalty to the player for seeking that information. The new regime– allowing players to wait until after the combine to decide whether to withdraw from the draft– provides players considering continuing their basketball careers on a professional level a valuable option.

Calipari isn’t merely praising this change as a beneficial option for “student-athletes,” however. Continue reading

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Uncovering John Calipari’s true motivations and machinations

This week’s issue of Sports Illustrated includes a transcript of Dan Patrick’s interview with former Kentucky Wildcat and presumptive New Orleans Hornet Anthony Davis. Included was this exchange, initiated by DP’s curiously worded question:

Patrick: Did you tell Kentucky Coach John Calipari you were going to go pro or did he tell you?

Davis: He told me. He told me to [come into his office]. When I walked in, first thing he said: “Look, Ant, you have to leave. You did too many great things this year. Won a national championship, got every award. There’s no point in you coming back.” I started laughing. But he had no smile on his face. He was dead serious.

Patrick: Did you want to stay at Kentucky?

Davis: I wanted to stay. Great team, great coach. But the way life is, you have to move on.

It’s tough to know how much to make of this out-of-context exchange. When Coach Cal called Davis into his office, was that the first time they talked about the star freshman’s departure? When Davis laughed, was it because he found the suggestion outlandish and wanted to stay, or was he just being sheepish? When Davis told DP he wanted to stay, was he being serious?

Still, there’s a persistent feeling that Cal really was kicking the kid on down the line to make room for the next crop of high-profile players. In a program operated on a one-and-done model, having a player of Davis’ talent stick around for another season could mean that UK would lose at least one of its top recruits, who commit to Kentucky because they want to shine for a single season and move along to the league where players get paid above the table.

Let’s get statistical: Playing the NBA Draft Lottery

The NBA Draft Lottery is the ping-pong-ball-centered game the league plays with the four worst teams from the previous season to determine the order of selections for the next player draft. It’s basically beruit/beer pong with millions of dollars instead of Keystone Light, and, like timid lightweights, the winner doesn’t want to stay on the table for the next round.

The positions are selected in descending order, and the number of balls a team has in the hopper is inversely proportioned to how well the team finished the prior season. The ostensible idea is to give the last-place team the best shot of getting the first overall pick (i.e., the best chance at improving its lot in the future). Why not just award the worst team the first pick as a rule? I suppose the idea is to avoid the sort of tanking that allegedly is a problem in the NFL, where such a rule is in effect. Injecting an element of chance means it’s harder to game the system in a way that’s detrimental to the game– losing on purpose– although it can’t fully do away with the incentive to lose so long as it maintains its rehabilitative goal.

This year, the Charlotte Bobcats had the worst season in NBA history. The New Orleans Hornets, recently late of league ownership, merely had the fourth worst of the 2011-2012 season. This year’s draft lottery thus was arranged with the stated goal of giving the Bobcats the best shot at the first pick and the Hornets the worst.

Of course, once everyone saw that the Hornets would be in the mix for this year’s draft lottery, the conspiracy theorists, folk singers of my literary heart, rolled out their obvious prediction: the league was going to rig the lottery so that the Hornets got the top pick. Keep reading…