I've got an idea for the next college basketball off-season: Let's not have an off-season.
Couldn't we have ended things with Michigan State's storybook run to the Final Four in recession-strapped Detroit? Why couldn't we have simply frozen the one shining moment when North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough, who had turned down NBA riches the previous summer for the chance to win a title for old State U, climbed that ladder with a pair of scissors in his hand?
Unfortunately, those memorable moments now seem more like a beginning than an end. The ensuing months have brought much sordidness and scandal that has badly sullied this sport.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino got the ball rolling three weeks after the Final Four, when he went to the feds to report an extortion attempt made against him by a woman named Karen Sypher, who was accusing him of sexual impropriety. The story percolated all summer without many details, but it boiled over last week.
In June, USC coach Tim Floyd resigned amidst an NCAA investigation into O.J. Mayo's recruitment. Later that month, we were treated to the embarrassing behavior of Carl Henry, the father of Kansas recruits Xavier and C.J. Henry. Carl was so incensed that a reporter from the Kansas City Star had the temerity to quote him accurately that he threatened to pull his sons' commitment from Kansas. Bill Self had to visit the Henrys' home in Oklahoma to make sure the Henry boys were still coming. Yup, even if you're Bill Self, there's no room for pride when a potential national championship is at stake.
In July, Josh Selby, a talented point guard from Baltimore, de-committed from Tennessee right after he had played at the LeBron James camp. Selby's change of heart angered Vols coach Bruce Pearl and launched a thousand conspiracy theories, some of which may even turn out to be true. (Tennessee is an Adidas school.) As was proven with the Eric Gordon switch from Illinois to Indiana three years ago, this kind of fratricide within the coaching ranks is not good for the sport.
There were other stories to come out of summer recruiting that flew below the radar but were no less disturbing. The New York Times uncovered the sleazy practice of tournament directors, many of whom happen to coach summer teams filled with highly recruitable athletes, charging college coaches hundreds of dollars for worthless game programs. Earlier this week, the Washington Postwrote about Joe Davis, a 22-year-old who latched on to a recruit from North Carolina and allegedly tried to convince college coaches to subscribe to his scouting service and hire him to work their camps in return for access to the player.
The fact that those two stories caused barely a ripple is a sorry reflection on the state of the game. People just aren't shocked anymore when they hear that something underhanded is going on in summer basketball.
The latest dagger came this week with the unsurprising news that the NCAA has vacated Memphis' 2008 NCAA tournament runner-up appearance because Derrick Rose's SAT score was invalidated after the season ended. If Mario Chalmers' three-pointer at the end of regulation in the title game had rimmed out, then we would have had the first case of a basketball national championship being vacated because of cheating.
John Calipari's defection to Kentucky should have been a huge boon for college hoops. He's a well-known, charismatic coach poised to resurrect one of the nation's most storied programs. Calipari was headed for an impressive legacy, but now he will be forever known, fairly or not, as the only coach to have two Final Four appearances vacated by the NCAA.
Lest you think this run of bad stories is over, there are plenty more on the horizon. The O.J. Mayo case at USC has yet to be decided. When it is, it won't be pretty. Mississippi State is still awaiting word on whether freshman forward Renardo Sidney can play this season. The school has already deemed Sidney academically eligible, which I'm sure was an extremely rigorous process, but however the NCAA adjudicates this case, it can't end well. Either a high-profile recruit will be forced to sit, or an entire sport will scoff at the NCAA's decision to accept whatever contorted explanation the Sidney family offered to explain how they could live in high-priced neighborhoods in L.A. with so little means.
Oh, and remember the case going on at UConn regarding the alleged misdeeds of former manager-turned-agent-turned-ripoff artist Josh Nochimson? That case may be on the back burner, but the NCAA is getting ready to turn up the heat. If the allegations reported against UConn are even close to correct, yet another of the nation's most prominent programs is going to get hammered. Get ready for more unsightly headlines, Hoopheads.
I'm also not sure that the Pitino story is over, largely because he has yet to publicly answer questions about it. And make no mistake, he has questions to answer. For example, during his public apology Pitino repeatedly referred to "that indiscretion six years ago." And Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich justified the school's decision to keep Pitino by telling my colleague Tim Layden that "one night he made a bad decision, and we've just got to deal with that."
If it comes out that Pitino has cheated on his wife on other other occasions -- and given the details of the case (Pitino had sex with Sypher in a restaurant just hours after meeting her while his assistant was so close he could hear them) -- one has to wonder if there are going to be more embarrassments for Pitino and Louisville.
Nor have we heard the last from Calipari about the penalties levied against Memphis. We know it is not like him to remain silent. What will he have to say? Will he try to take legal action? And what was Derrick Rose doing taking the SAT in Detroit anyway?
Was it really just four months ago that the 2008-09 season ended? That's frightening considering the 2009-10 season is still three months away. Please, please, please ... let the games begin already. College basketball desperately needs some feel-good stories, and right now I'm not feeling too good.