Sunday, March 29, 2009

Jim Calhoun is done

Don't get me wrong. UConn could still win the NCAA hoops championship this year. But the Hall of Fame coach may be preparing for his final weekend.

The much-talked-about Yahoo! Sports story provides solid evidence of multiple recruiting violations. Essentially, as UConn pursued recruit Nate Miles, a former team manager turned sports agent steered Miles in UConn's direction. In other words, professional agents aren't just representing players before they turn pro; they're signing them up before college. And in this case, the agent went to pretty significant lengths to arrange for Miles to qualify academically at UConn.

The specific violations may seem trivial, involving hundreds of phone calls between the agent and the recruit and the school at a time that NCAA rules limit contact between recruits and school officials to one a month.

But Calhoun's reaction Thursday and again Friday to the developing story was especially telling.

Could I have made a mistake? Sure. The (rules) manual is 508 pages. Someone could’ve made a mistake.

Not so fast. More than 1,500 contacts with a recruit during a time schools can make only one call a month is not an innocent mistake. Besides, coaches know quite well how often they're allowed to touch base with prospects.

This is, after all, the same type of violations that ended the career of former Oklahoma and Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson -- who was reportedly on the short list for the Carolina job when Matt Doherty was hired. Calhoun and his staff had to know the NCAA does not allow them.

It's as if a 60-year-old who hasn't filed taxes in 15 years gets caught -- and then blames the complexity of the tax code for "dropping out of the system." It doesn't wash.

Say what you will about the NCAA's rulebook. The regulations are supposed to apply to everyone. If you want to have a big-time college program, you have to comply. And if you don't, and are caught, you should suffer the consequences, not point fingers at the unfairness of the system.

ESPN's Colin Cowherd had it right this week. The head coach of a major college basketball program is like the CEO of a 20-person company. The successful ones know everything that's going on inside the operation. Besides, Calhoun said Miles was the most talented wing prospect he'd ever seen. He knew what was happening.

The question is, how long will Calhoun fight? And if he's forced out after the season, how long will it take UConn to become an elite program again? UNLV has never fully recovered, nearly two decades after Jerry Tarkanian was kicked out. And Indiana may be a doormat in the Big Ten for years because of the sanctions Sampson attracted.

UConn, the program Calhoun built from scratch, may fast disappear into obscurity.