- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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You may or may not remember this, but on Feb. 26, 2011, the Kentucky Wildcats beat the Florida Gators in Rupp Arena. After the game, the school held a ceremony for its coach, John Calipari, who had just notched the 500th collegiate win of his career. It's a big milestone. Kentucky celebrated it accordingly. Then we all forgot about it and moved on and watched the NCAA tournament and the NBA playoffs and hey how about our boy Dirk? American hero, that guy. Love it.
Anyway, not everyone forgot about the UK numbers game. The NCAA Committee on Infractions certainly didn't. At the time, it questioned the school's counting of Calipari's vacated wins from seasons at Memphis and Massachusetts and told Kentucky that it needed to subtract 42 victories from the coach's total if it wanted to align itself with the NCAA's statistical record.
Now, a few months later, the Committee on Infractions is starting to get annoyed. According to the Lexington Herald-Leader's Jerry Tipton, the COI send Kentucky President Lee T. Todd Jr. a "letter asking the school to publicly acknowledge it was wrong to recognize John Calipari's 500th coaching victory this past season." Committee Chairman Dennis Thomas wants more than that, though. He says the wording of the apology must be "approved by the Committee on Infractions prior to its release" and he wants a response by next Friday at the latest -- and he's not playing around:
More than once in his five-page letter, Thomas wrote of how UK's handling of Calipari's victory total was "troubling," "extremely troubling" and "very troubling" to the Committee on Infractions. If UK did not agree, Thomas said school officials would be asked to make an in-person appearance before the committee.
As I alluded to above, this is not exactly a new debate. The NCAA and UK have been going back and forth on Calipari's win total since just before the milestone in February, when a rival fan's email supposedly alerted the NCAA that Kentucky was using alternate numbers to inflate Calipari's win total and ignore the vacated games from his controversial seasons at Memphis and UMass. The tenor of this argument varies depending on whose side of the story you're getting, but you can get a feel for it from Tipton here:
[UK compliance director Sandy] Bell wrote Todd on April 5 that the response from Gary Johnson, the person who heads men's basketball statistics for the NCAA, was: "You can say he has 1,000 wins if you want. But if you want to agree with what his official record is, then you have to account for those vacates."
Bell said UK interpreted that to mean it could recognize 500 or more victories as long as it "accounted" for the vacates. Thomas disagreed. "Recognizing Mr. Calipari for a fictitious 500th win does not properly 'account' for the vacation of wins," he wrote Todd.
Bell responded to that by saying, somewhat cheekily, that UK's "only intention was to recognize the fact that, during his career, Coach John Calipari had indeed led his teams to 500 victories on the court." Thomas is no less cheeky in his letter, reminding Todd that "both cases involved violations of well-known, fundamental NCAA legislation."
When you get through all of the smirking words and angered responses, what you get is a Kentucky media relations department and program that always knew counting Calipari's officially vacated victories was going to piss the NCAA off something good. You also get an NCAA Committee on Infractions that responded exactly how you would assume it would. Kentucky needles, the NCAA responds, Kentucky needles a bit more, the NCAA responds, Kentucky needles ... and finally, like a fed-up teacher, the NCAA says, "OK, enough, you're apologizing in class. If you don't, see me in my office in Indy. End of discussion."
Here's the thing: Those victories did happen. The NCAA says they didn't, but you can remember them. They're in your brain. They're on the Internet. They didn't magically disappear just because the NCAA says so, right? In April at the Final Four, Calipari was asked what it felt like to make it to his first Final Four, a winking question noting the two vacated appearances Calipari made in the two aforementioned seasons. He responded humorlessly, saying "We’ve been here three times. Those players played those games and did what they were supposed to." Clearly, this is something he seems to take seriously.
Unfortunately for him, so does the NCAA, and when the NCAA says your wins didn't actually happen, well, for all statistical intents and purposes, those victories didn't happen. It's a strange fact of life in the NCAA. But it's one Calipari and Kentucky should be used to by now.
This time, the NCAA doesn't seem likely to back down.