College Basketball: Do Coaches Get Off Easy in Scandals?

Scott PolacekFeatured ColumnistSeptember 19, 2012

NEW ORLEANS, LA - APRIL 02:  Head coach John Calipari celebrates as he cuts down the net after the Wildcats defeat the Kansas Jayhawks 67-59 in the National Championship Game of the 2012 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on April 2, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

There have been three overarching themes that have dominated college football discussions in recent years—the SEC’s championship run, disillusion with the BCS system and the various scandals that have rocked the sport.

Fans may or may not be sick of hearing about them, but these scandals have basically overshadowed most of what has happened on the field.

But what about college basketball?

There is no doubt that off-court problems are a reality on the hardwood as well. Allegations of phantom classes, extortion cases and recruiting violations seemingly scroll across ESPN’s bottom line every month, but for some reason they don’t seem to be given quite the same amount of weight by the national media as the football ones.

While it is easy to dismiss this as just a consequence of football’s incredible popularity, there may be more to it. When comparing recent college football and college basketball scandals, it seems as if basketball coaches get off much easier than their gridiron counterparts.

Look at football’s latest laundry list.

Jim Tressel, who had built up a sterling off-field reputation prior to the horror of his players exchanging their own property for tattoos, basically had to fall on the sword for Ohio State and will forever have his name tarnished in the eyes of many fans, media members and ESPN’s legal department.

Butch Davis is no longer the head coach of North Carolina thanks to numerous NCAA violations that occurred under his watch, although none were actually connected to Davis himself.

Pete Carroll probably saw the writing on the wall when he bolted USC to take the Seattle Seahawks job (although he will tell you differently). Chances are if he stayed through the NCAA investigation and eventual USC punishment, Reggie Bush may not be the first name that comes to mind for many fans when that scandal is brought up.

Heck, ask any Auburn fans what they think of the Alabama football program, and you will probably get a laundry list of reasons why Nick Saban is such a cheater. And we are yet to see what will happen to Oregon’s Chip Kelly and Miami’s Al Golden in their school's respective NCAA investigations.

Even in arguably the biggest scandal in NCAA history, Joe Paterno—who was fired shortly before his death—has probably received just as much negative coverage as Jerry Sandusky himself.

I am not suggesting that these coaches are not deserving of the criticism they have received or that these scandals are all created equal. I am merely pointing out that the end result of an NCAA investigation for college football coaches is often the firing block, tons of negative press and something close to a permanent black mark on his name.

But the same cannot be said for many of the nation’s college basketball coaches, even in the light of various off-court issues.

It wouldn’t be a college basketball scandal article if John Calipari isn’t mentioned, so let’s just start off in Lexington. While the ever-slick head man of the Kentucky program is stocking up blue-chip freshmen and championships for the Wildcats, the two programs that were forced to vacate Final Four appearances for violations that occurred under his watch have struggled to return to form.

Don’t get me wrong. Memphis is still a nationally relevant program, but it is nothing like it was during the days of Derrick Rose and his fake SAT scores. As for UMass, let’s just say I don’t see them returning to the Final Four anytime soon.

You can argue whether Calipari was at fault or not for these situations, but the reality is he is much better off now than the teams he used to lead.

Now let's take a quick trip up I-64 W to find another coach who has been let off easy for his own off-court issues. It wasn’t long ago that Rick Pitino was embroiled in an extortion case that would make even the most scandalous tabloids blush.

However, how many Final Four preview articles about the Louisville Cardinals did you read last season that even mentioned Pitino’s favorite restaurant booth?

Speaking of articles, take a moment to pause from reading and watching the Jim Calhoun tributes that have come out this week to remember the Yahoo! Sports investigation that uncovered recruiting violations that occurred under his watch at UConn. Or remind yourself why the Huskies won’t be playing in the NCAA tournament come March.

I know Calhoun has received plenty of criticism, but years from now he will be remembered by most fans for the national titles he won at Connecticut and the great work he did as the program’s head coach.

You think Tressel is going to be remembered by non-Ohio State fans for his victories over Michigan and national title or his role in the tattoo scandal?

Meanwhile, Roy Williams’ reputation, at least from a national standpoint, is relatively unscathed despite allegations of academic fraud at North Carolina that included basketball players. As mentioned when discussing Saban, for football coaches it often only takes rumors and allegations for many fans to make up their mind.

Even Mike Krzyzewski, this generation’s closest answer to John Wooden in terms of on-court success and off-court reputation, has some skeletons in his closet.

Corey Maggette, an integral part of the 1998-99 Duke team that was national runner-up, admitted that he took cash payments from a summer league coach while in high school, per this ABC News article.

That would, of course, make Maggette ineligible, which would imply that the Blue Devils should be forced to vacate any victories accumulated with Maggette on the roster. Nevertheless, Duke and Krzyzewski went unpunished, unless you count the derision and outcry from Duke-haters everywhere.

So, what do you think? Do college basketball coaches get let off easier than their football counterparts when it comes to scandals? Is the extensive press that the football issues and coaches receive strictly due to football’s popularity, or is there something else at work?

Let me know in the comments section.