No asterisks of infamy for Jayhawks

Thursday, March 11, 2010

In all the glitter, glamour and eulogizing during college basketball tournaments and NCAA March Madness, some of the seamier aspects of competing teams in the Big Show get swept under the rug. All you have to do is scan the footnotes of the brackets since 1961 to realize the rather rampant truancy in the system.

Most noticeable is the “vacate” ruling that cost Memphis 38 victories and a footnote in the 2008 rundown, when Kansas worked miracles to win its third NCAA title. Memphis had to vacate its entire season when the NCAA declared Derrick Rose ineligible after discovering another player had taken his SAT.

How nutty is the system? If Memphis had beaten KU, it still would have been sitting in the top spot on the Final Four chart with an explanatory asterisk while Kansas would have been listed second. They don’t advance teams in such cases. Take the case of Kansas in its 1971 Final Four appearance.

UCLA won in ’71. Runner-up Villanova had to vacate its tournament victories after it was discovered superstar Howard Porter signed a pro contract with an ABA team during the season. Same year, Western Kentucky got a “vacate” after it was found that Jim McDaniels had signed a pro contract to play for an ABA team and accepted money during the season. Kansas, with an 0-2 record in the ’71 Final Four, was not moved up the chain; still listed at fourth. Oh, the NCAA way!

The Final Four itself has other major “vacations”, beyond Memphis in 2008 and those ’71 casualties. First one came in 1961 when St. Joseph’s vacated its Final Four appearance due to player involvement in a fixing scandal.

Then there is 1980 when a runner-uppancy by coach Larry Brown’s UCLA Bruins was annotated due the use of ineligibles Kiki Vandeweghe and Rod Foster. Some other Final Four notables:

Memphis State’s appearance was vacated due to use of ineligible players as were all NCAA Tournament appearances from 1982 to 1986. That’s before they ever heard of emerging bandit John Calipari. In 1992 and 1993, Michigan vacated the results of 114 games won while four players, Chris Webber, Maurice Taylor, Robert Traylor and Louis Bullock were not eligible. That included both Final Four dalliances.

Calipari again: Massachusetts’ 1996 Final Four appearance was vacated due to Marcus Camby prematurely signing with an agent. In ’97, Minnesota had to vacate the Final Four and many of its games between 1996 and 1999 due to the use of ineligible players who had school work completed by school assistants.

Came ’99 and Ohio State lost its Final Four status as punishment for the improper actions of coach Jim O’Brien. Nothing, of course, has topped the stripping of 38 Memphis wins in 2008.

Wrote Mike Lopresti in USA Today: “From 1980 to 2005, there were only two years without a ‘vacate’.” Coaches, players, agents, tutors, these and more were involved. Officially, the NCAA has slapped a “V” on 35 schools, but remains gutless in at least two cases.

Kentucky won the title in ’48, ’49 and ’51, then came fixing scandals involving Wildcats. Not a trace of an asterisk. City College of New York won both the NCAA and NIT in 1950, was loaded with convicted point-shavers; again, no asterisk.

What’s surprising is the number of biggies like UCLA, Michigan and Ohio State among the 35 schools penalized. But a highly pleasant aspect for Jayhawk fans is that KU for all its NCAA activity does not have a single asterisk of infamy attached to its name.