The Good, the Bad, and the Husky

As I think I  mentioned here before, I pretty much keep sports out of the Crisis, except for the link to the Sox and the occasional mention of the Huskies. I figure real sports fanatics are going to turn to the bloggers who make hoops or baseball or whatever their main focus (and in that vein, I recommend the blog listed to the right, Sports on the Street, written by my old friend and former editor, Matt Levine).



(Memory Lane detour: Although, I have to say, it’s not like I haven’t spent most of my life committed to sports. Some of my strongest memories of 42 years ago, the year of the Impossible Dream – stretching out on my grandparents’ living room floor and watching Billy Rohr throw his one-hitter; seeing the purple eye of Tony C; watching Rico clutch the out that won the pennant, once again at my grandparents’; faking a stomach ache to stay home for the World Series and see Jose Santiago belt a home run. Then, the next year, it was the fist-clenching at the Mexico City Olympics and the beginning of my devotion to the Los Angeles Rams. I memorized the height and weight of the Fearsome Foursome and randomly spouted them out; for a week or so, I think my parents thought I was an idiot savant. Others swore it was solely the former.)

This weekend, though, sports has been a prime concern, watching the UConn men and women advance through their respective tourneys, and contemplating the sorry state of ethics at my alma mater.

Kemba Walker - Saturday's hero

Kemba Walker - Saturday's hero

So, first the good: The men are playing Michigan State in the Final Four, and we will be there! Months ago, I did various calculations – distance to Detroit, capability of the team – and took a chance, entering the lottery for tickets. I won, and I knew if the men didn’t make it, I could make back my money and then some by selling the tix.

(I suppose I could enter the lottery every year just to make money, but I figure I improve my odds of selection, karmically speaking, when there is a legitimate chance I can get to a Final Four to see my team. So far, I have gotten picked four times, though this will be the first time we’ve actually used the tickets.)

So, on top of more preparations for Italy, I’ve been researching our trip to Detroit next Saturday. If the men win, we stay till Tuesday. If they lose, we sell the tickets to the final, spend Sunday sightseeing in Dearborn (the history nerd here wants to see the Ford Museum; unfortunately the acclaimed village next door is not yet open for the season), and  hopefully hook up with other Husky fans still in town to have a viewing party to watch the women. With their win today, they need just one more to reach their Final Four in St. Louis; they are the clear favorites to go all the way, but I won’t take that for granted.

We actually have tix for the women’s finals too, and I figured all along we would be in St. Louis next weekend. After watching the men lose twice to Pitt and then to Syracuse in that marathon game, I thought, “This is not a Final Four team.” And now you see why I  do not run a sports blog filled with expert analysis. Still, even if the men  and women both won, I thought it made more sense to clear a larger profit on the Detroit tix and use that to pay for the St. Louis trip.

I was even less inclined to go to Detroit if the men made it after the violations debacle of the week. If you are not a sports buff, you probably didn’t see much, and don’t care much, about the recruiting brouhaha in which the men are now embroiled. Check out the Hartford Courant for the gory details, but here’s the capsule version: UConn coaches had more contact than allowed with a recruit who was represented by a former, seemingly slimy team manager. Everything alleged by the Yahoo Sports journalists who broke the story reflects many NCAA no-nos. After spending 5 years working for UConn athletics, Samantha knew very well how the team, from players and coaches to pretty much anyone who breathes the same air they do, is told about compliance. Follow all the arcane NCAA rules to make sure there are no gaffes that could hurt the program. And then this.

Hall of Famer - and sometime jerk?

Hall of Famer - and sometime jerk?

Coach Jim Calhoun has not looked reassuring as he’s addressed the issue in the media. Now, at this point, all we have are allegations of violations. But I would bet my next set of Final Four tickets that the NCAA will find a violation or two. The program will be punished, and the school’s reputation is already sullied.

Yes, I think the school as a whole suffers from these shenanigans, not just Calhoun, not just the men’s basketball program, not just the Athletics Department, There have been a string of busts and tawdry actions by UConn players in recent years, which unfortunately reflect the win-first, determine-morals-later approach Calhoun has taken. (The school, it seems so often, looks the other way as the transgressions mount.) The recruit at the heart of the recent controversy, Nate Miles, appears to be something of a thug. And yet UConn kept in touch with after booting him off the team, for violating a restraining order. Sixteen minutes after he got it.

Now, UConn has had plenty of good guys too, And maybe the time under Calhoun’s tutelage has turned some iffy characters into better young men. But I see, as many posters at the Courant site do, a certain arrogance in Calhoun that is not very endearing. And if that attitude leads to ethical violations and penalties, I think the whole school suffers. I want the men to win. I just wish they could do it with as much class (and academic success) as the women do.

Of course, I am far from morally pure. When the Sweet 16 started on Thursday, my disgust with Calhoun and the allegations was pretty high. We still had not ruled out going to Detroit if UConn won, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to go, even as I knew it would be my best chance, maybe only chance, to see the Huskies play in a Final Four. After yesterday, when their place in Detroit was secure, the fan in me slapped silly the moralist, leading to the plans to bag St. Louis and head to the Motor City. I’ll save my disgust for after the investigation and the weakening of the program that I fear will follow, especially if Calhoun leaves the school under a cloud in the next year or two. But in the moment of those 40 minutes on the court, I will be absorbed by the game, the talent, the determination, And if we win, I get to bask again in the vicarious sense of accomplishment I get when “we,” all of UConn-dom, win a big game.

Yeah, it’s a pretty shallow way to live, but sometimes sports give me the biggest thrills of my life, if only fleetingly. They are one addiction that softens the Crisis-blows with no lasting negative effects. Of course, who knows what important lessons I missed that day in ’67, when my “illness” kept me out of school? Actually, maybe that was a good lesson too: Sometimes you gotta commit to what you want, even if it means bending a rule, as long as no one else is hurt. Unless, of course, you’re recruiting basketball players for a major Division I school…


~ by mburgan on March 29, 2009.

2 Responses to “The Good, the Bad, and the Husky”

  1. Well, thanks so much for the plug for Sports on the Street, Mike. Much appreciated! And a nice post on the UConn Huskies–where I live, we hear about the other Huskies all the time. I am psyched also that UConn made it to the Final Four, but like you, I’m disillusioned at Calhoun and the recruiting violations, Sheesh! You’d think the program is good enough to attract great players without all the shenanigans! Also, I forgot to take a shot at Duke’s loss on my blog–a missed golden opportunity. Ha ha, Krzyzewski! And no Pitt to worry about, either. A UConn-NC final would be pretty epic! Two other things: Congrats on going to Italy! Hope it’s a blast! And I will be glad to pass work along if I have a chance. Right now, I gotta make sure I’m established enough with these companies that they won’t drop me if I turn aside work. I have every intention of throwing in a good word for you when I get a chance!

  2. Thanks, Meathead, and look for Samantha and me on TV on Sat. night (though I guess it will still be afternoon out there, and I doubt the camera will pan the nosebleed sections…)

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