Evidence of March Madness: Three college basketball coaches have dominated sports and “news” media coverage this week. Let’s take a look at how the media has covered each one:
Jerry Tarkanian: Elected to the Hall of Fame after being snubbed for decades. Rob Dauster of NBC Sports pretty well sums up the media coverage of Tark’s entry after having been snubbed for decades, and why: “Jerry Tarkanian officially was invited to join the Naismith Hall of Fame on Monday afternoon at a ceremony in Atlanta. He’ll become an actual member in September at an induction ceremony in September.
“This honor was a long-time coming. ‘Tark the Shark’ won 729 games in his 34 year career, with 706 of those coming at the Division I level. He essentially built the UNLV basketball program, creating the Runnin’ Rebels and leading them to four Final Four and a national title in 1990. His first Final Four in 1977 came just seven years after the program went Division I. His UNLV teams in the early ’90s will go down as one of the best college basketball teams of all-time.
“So why wasn’t the Shark in the Hall of Fame already?
“Well, its simple, really.
“He’s got a laundry list of NCAA issues. He’s had games vacated. He has twice taken legal action against the NCAA, with one of those lawsuits resulting in the restructuring of the way the NCAA handles enforcement. Tarkanian is one of the greatest coaches in the history of the game. An innovator. But the problem was that he was painted as a cheat, as a black mark on the integrity of the NCAA. Why would anyone want to reward one of the most notorious outlaws of amateur athletics?
“But there is a powerful anti-NCAA movement going on across the country these days. After seeing what happened with Miami, USC, Penn State and UCLA, the view that voters have of the Shark is starting to change.
“Maybe he’s not the villain.
“Maybe he was actually the guy that was fighting the good fight all those years ago.
“This honor was overdue. Tarkanian’s health is failing. Good on the voters to allow him to experience this.”
So, MAYBE, as the author writes, Tark is not a villain and his legacy can be recognized only after powerhouses like Miami, USC, Penn State, and UCLA have been sanctioned after decades of allegations that were somehow overlooked by the NCAA and the media.
Candidate number two: Former Rutgers coach Mike Rice. Steve Eder of the New York Times sums up the media coverage in part this way: “Tim Pernetti, the athletic director, knew all of that and had repeatedly tried to rein in Mr. Rice, according to a 50-page report that Rutgers commissioned outside lawyers to prepare. He personally reprimanded him, attended Mr. Rice’s practices and even assigned the university’s sports psychologist to work with the team, the report said.
“But the video was stark, a highlight reel of abuse — the coach kicking his players, hurling basketballs at them and taunting them with homophobic slurs. Those epithets were especially galling at Rutgers, where a gay freshman had killed himself.
“The video, parts of which were made public last week, was 30 minutes long. It had been professionally edited from a collection of 219 DVDs covering hundreds of hours of practices, material that Rutgers had voluntarily provided to Eric Murdock, the former assistant, after his departure.”
Wow! The media attacked a coach at Rutgers that last won a basketball championship in, well, never. But they DID reach the Final Four once, in 1976.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino. After reviewing dozens and dozens of media descriptions of Pitino’s entry into the Hall of Fame, along with Tark’s, the media’s fawning over and bowing to this coach can be summed up by Justin Onslow of the Bleacher Report: “There aren’t many coaches with the résumé Rick Pitino boasts. With 661 wins and 17 tournament appearances spanning four decades, the legendary coach should have found a home in the Hall of Fame long before this season.
“Three things measure the success of a head coach: wins, championships and longevity. Pitino exemplifies those things, and his team’s tournament run this season is the icing on the cake.
“The 60-year-old has left an indelible mark on the sport of basketball in his 35 years as a head coach. With two stints in the NBA (New York Knicks, Boston Celtics), a national championship at Kentucky and another potentially on the way with Louisville, Pitino has put together one of the most impressive careers of any coach in the sport’s history.”
Media hypocrisy: Perhaps you noticed that nearly every article that discusses Jerry Tarkanian’s entry into the Hall of Fame includes not only his accomplishments as a coach, but a history of missteps, penalties, and sanctions against him over the past several decades.
Regarding Mike Rice, the media must have been asleep at the switch, as their excoriation of the coach (and rightly so if the reports are even remotely correct) comes only after the cat was let out of the bag regarding the coach’s verbal and physical abuse of the players.
And the winner is, Rick Pitino: I am sure every beat writer can justify the inclusion of Tark’s history as part of the history of a great coach who is finally rightly recognized for his accomplishments. What seems to be lacking from the media reports is the history of Rick Pitino. The media is ready to offer him sainthood for his accomplishments as a coach but his failings as a person are clearly missing from any reports in the coverage of his induction and his team’s winning of a national championship. Remember, it was just a few years ago that the Rick Pitino scandal was on the lips of every sportscaster and the fingertips of every sportswriter. Just four years ago the New York Daily News printed the following as part of an article entitled: “The Sordid Tale of Louisville Coach Rick Pitino Sex Scandal.” It reads in part, “According to a report of the July 12 interview conducted by the police, Pitino said that he met Sypher (then named Karen Cunagin) at a restaurant, and after some initial flirting was soon involved in a sexual encounter with her. Sypher asked him that night if he had a condom. He did not.
“She told him that he should (be careful) because she had just gotten out of a relationship and was not on birth control,” the police sergeant who interviewed Pitino wrote in his report.
“They had sex in the back of the closed restaurant and Karen Sypher later drove the coach home, badgering him about getting tickets to Louisville games during the ride, according to the report.
“Two weeks later, Sypher told Pitino she was pregnant. According to the report, Pitino asked her if she was sure of this and she was offended by the question.
“He said that he explained that he was married with five kids, and that she had four kids, and that he didn’t know what he wanted to do about the situation,” the report said. “He said that if she chose to have the child that he would require a blood test to determine for certain whether or not the child was his. She told him that she was going to have an abortion, and stated that she did not have health insurance.”
“Pitino admitted to giving Sypher $3,000 for the abortion, though his attorney, Steve Pence, qualifies the transaction by saying that the money was actually used to pay for the health insurance that eventually paid for the procedure. Pence has gone to great lengths to deliver the message, through the media, that the abortion decision was not something Pitino took lightly, and a voice message Karen Sypher produced for the media last week seemed to reflect that.
“I think that the best thing in all scenarios is to go through with it (have the baby), but that it has to be your call,” Pitino said on the message left on Sypher’s phone. “I think, I really can’t give you any advice, except I have thought about it.”
“Karen Sypher would accept the $3,000 from Pitino to pay for the abortion, but that, of course, was not the end of the saga. Sypher eventually married and divorced Pitino’s longtime associate, Tim Sypher; allegedly demanded that Pitino pay her $10 million in exchange for her silence; accused him of raping her in their initial encounter and one time afterward; and allegedly lied to the FBI when they questioned her about the shakedown. On April 24 of this year, Sypher was indicted by federal authorities for extortion.”
How soon they conveniently forget: The purpose of this article is not to cast aspersions on Rick Pitino, nor to defend Jerry Tarkanian or Mike Rice. Rather, the purpose goes to Tark’s longtime contention that the NCAA, and to a lesser extent the media, protects certain schools, programs, and coaches, and selectively goes after others. Usually the decisions are consistent with money. The entire basketball program at Wichita State runs on less than what Louisville coach Rick Pitino makes in a single year, with money left over to purchase plenty of trophy cases for Final Four hardware. The budget for the entire basketball program at Wichita State, which barely lost to Pitino’s team in the semi-finals, is $3.1 million. Pitino’s base salary is $3.9 million. Perhaps the Shockers should watch their backs.
A little blogging music Maestro: “Hypocrites,” by Bob Marley