Monday, April 23, 2007

Let me clear my throat

As is often the case, the post that seems innocuous generates the most attention, if not some below-the-belt shots that, mercifully, are delivered in a good-natured fashion (I'm assuming here). It appears that two camps have formed in re: Arizona basketball. If I may, here is the condensed platform of each:

Position A: Arizona basketball is a low-character program that's been populated by ne'er-do-wells and miscreants who may or may not have been later murdered by brothers. The only other people who will say otherwise are homers or those who are compromised via a symbiotic relationship with the program. Ergo, one should not root for Arizona without the awareness that they do so at the expense of ethical considerations.

Position B: Arizona basketball is a high-character program, as evidenced by a relatively low (relative to other major programs, a peer group to which Arizona belongs to based on earning power, nationwide popularity and reputation, if not results) incidence of arrests, academic scandals and murder convictions. Ergo, Lute Olson is an unqualified (some would say staggering) success story.

While it would seem the two positions are at odds, the premises don't actually contradict each other. The root of a rambling IM conversation between Ryan and I today that culminated with me wanting to kill him for being a patronizing asshole (I'm overstating about the killing part, but I was pretty pissed) was that I don't believe that arrest records/NCAA violation histories are good ways to measure the "character" of a program. The NCAA is notorious for arriving on the scene too late; usually, sanctions are handed down on a program once the high-profile coach that did the bad shit is gone. The only way the NCAA operates in real-time, on the whole, is when the media does the NCAA's work for it and uncovers something (the Clem Haskins situation, as an example) that can't be ignored. While I'm not as prone to baiting the sports media as Justin is, it is worthwhile noting that in cities like Tucson, where the college basketball or football team is the biggest draw, there is often ample motivation for the local wrap to not take an overly aggressive approach when it comes to poking around the program; there's something to be said about not writing stories that will get you into a ton of hot water with a majority of your readership. However, the media will always report those situations in which a player (or, sometimes, a coach) runs afoul of the law, and that is important. But not all settings are the same; while I have no reason beyond suspicion to believe this is actually the case, it's entirely feasible that the TPD is willing to overlook some spots players get into. Clearly, that's not the case with DUIs, but in situations where some measure of discretion is available (bar fights, busted-up parties, attempts at underage drinking, speeding, and the like) it's not out of the question that an officer might issue a "warning," the carbon copy of which will possess a newly minted autograph. However, in bigger cities like Los Angeles, it's harder to imagine a college athlete getting away with anything once caught.

I'm not basing the issue of law enforcement on theory; I witnessed it in Pocatello, where a football player had to all but kill a guy to actually get arrested (again, DUIs exist in a different realm, because those are called in during pursuit and almost impossible to "cover up"). And even if that person was arrested, he would usually get a pass from the judge. Now, is Pocatello completely analogous to Tucson? Of course not. But there are enough similarities in the situations w/r/t the "value" of the local athletic program as a lone source of sports entertainment that it doesn't require any great suspension of disbelief to see that the same could be the case in Tucson. Thusly, I am less willing to trust arrest figures as a reliable indicator of "character."

However, as Justin has discovered, trying to apply concrete examples of malfeasance to Arizona players can be a daunting task, since the vast majority of it is hearsay or blatant speculation. Truth is, we saw very little of the players, even while we were in school with them, and even when we covered them. How many times did any of us see Walton or RJ in relaxed social settings? Further, how many of us saw them, say, smoking out? Not many, even those who lived at Jefferson Commons when RJ was laying waste to the reputation of one of Kim's friends. Meaningful, personal interaction is a scare commodity with college athletes, so the idea of "evidence" is pretty much non-existent in this kind of argument.

So what does that leave us with? Conjecture. Based on a host of factors, including what I witnessed in my short time covering the program, what I've seen as a fan and what I've read in the papers, this is a program that thinks it answers to no one. Shakes doesn't appear to consider attitude an important part of the recruiting process, and it shows on the floor when he trots out whiny cunts like Bynum (who also managed to shoot out some windows without it either becoming a big story or getting himself suspended for any period of time), Stoudamire, Williams, Rodgers, Bibby, Woods and Simon, not to mention some other guys that aren't springing to mind. It's important to note that I'm not talking about what they produced, but instead how they played and ultimately represented my alma mater. This lack of character -- and that's what I believe it is -- was further proven by how "soft" these teams have been. It's interesting to note that the one guy who's managed to prove he's got tons of "character" is actually someone I rung up in a column: Gilbert Arenas, who along with Walton and RJ are the only current pros out of the program I can say I'm proud to claim. The rest of them, honestly, can go to hell.

As for Shakes, I think the jury's been out for a long time for most of us: He's an absolute power-drunk asshole who's managed to overstay his welcome. It is evident he's never once been asked to be a real ambassador for his institution, and he certainly has never been inclined to do it on his own. Sure, lots of coaches are assholes, but that doesn't mean Shakes gets a pass. As I said before, I will not support this program in any way until it's gone; I'll go one step further by saying I won't support the program until its leader is someone that shows a shred of respect to anyone besides the Nike sales rep and the national media.

Finally, I don't give a fuck what happens at other programs. There is no relative measure of good or bad, high or low character, or respectful or disrespectful. These attributes are at once abstract yet identifiable; to dumb down the cliché Supreme Court definition of obscenity, you know each when you see it. Speaking for myself alone, I've been seeing it for a long time, but the inglorious firing of Roz forced me to realize that I couldn't look past it any longer, and couldn't in good conscience support a program that mocks me and the school it is attached to.

And, as opposed to some of my other sports-related views, this is one opinion I'm willing to stand by without empirical evidence, because I don't believe there is any of worth available.


Ryan said...

Doyle believing something without having evidence for it? Welcome to the Catholic Church, my friend!

In all seriousness, a solid, well thought-out post. I might not agree with all your takes, but at least you're not calling me names. Well, asshole. ... but still!

b said...


This argument is past its exit.

Mike Sharperson

St said...

I agree with almost everything you say here, with the sole exception that I think there's more evidence for your (and mine) conjecture than you seem to think. Without conjecturing anything, and focusing exclusively on the last ten years, you have:

A handful of DUI arrests.

Harris' and Stoudamire's drug charges.

A pair of rec center expulsions thanks to confrontations, verbal and otherwise, initiated by bball players. (Not conjecture -- I've seen the documentation of Mike Bibby's lifetime ban from the rec center with my own eyes, and a friend ejected Chris Rodgers after he spit in somebody's face).

A player shooting out dorm windows with an illegal firearm.

A ton of mercenary players who left early.

An atrocious graduation rate.

Candygate and the Bagel Incident.

A whole bunch of team suspensions for misconduct and/or academics, especially in the last few years (the Stoudamire/Shakur fight; Chris Rodgers' various indiscretions; McClellan's academic issues; Williams' suspension this year; etc.).

A player receiving money from an agent.

The firing of Jim Rosborough.

I didn't invent or imply any of that. All of that happened. I think the empirical evidence alone contradicts our belligerent Basque friend's campaign to canonize Lute.

AnEasyMark said...

D, I would like to read your gilbert article.

Candygate and the Bagel incident is A) a childrens boardgame, B) snacks eaten during the national anthem, or C)I don't know.(google results= stealing candy from Kansas vending machine, so disappointing).

Diesel said...

No can do, Mark; the Wildcat appears to have erased its memory of me.