DeFord and Kentucky academics

Frank DeFord is one of the greats in sportswriting, so when he weighs in on the subject of academic integrity in college sports, it’s worth reading.

His weekly musings on NPR are always worth listening to, and he’s closing in on 50 years of writing for Sports Illustrated, so there’s not much he hasn’t seen. Twice.

Today, he weighed in on the NCAA’s handling of academic matters for SI.com, and you can read his thoughts here.

His lead is artful as always:

There are certain things I simply don’t believe. For example, when I see a sign that says: “Aircraft Patrolling For Speeders,” I don’t believe it. When someone quits, saying they’ve become a “distraction,” I don’t believe it. It’s because they did something wrong. I don’t believe anything anybody tells me about their grandchildren. And I don’t believe anything the NCAA tells me about the academic records of student-athletes. I think there is more cheating in the classroom than the NCAA knows about . . . or wants to know about.

He then gets into the academic business at North Carolina, and touches on the Eric Bledsoe situation at Kentucky. Which brings him to a conclusion:

We could expect academic monkey business at Kentucky, because the basketball coach there, John Calipari, has already skipped out of two other colleges after serious violations scarred the programs on his watch. But the Carolina revelations are the more distressing because it is one of the finest state universities in the nation. Even the bleeding-hearts amongst us can only conclude that if they’re cheating at Chapel Hill, athletic academic fraud must be truly commonplace.

This is the kind of thing, I know, that drives UK athletic director Mitch Barnhart crazy. In fact, I’m told by some who listened that he took to the radio airwaves before UK’s football game against Akron to express displeasure with a recent ESPN Outside the Lines segment that lumped UK in with those under NCAA investigation, and to emphasize that UK has been above board in everything it has done regarding the situations of Bledsoe and Enes Kanter. (I’ve been unable to find a copy of that broadcast.)

And certainly, as has been emphasized here and elsewhere, UK has been accused of no wrongdoing in either of those situations — academic or otherwise.

That DeFord expects academic monkey business there is his opinion, and one that is perhaps shared by many, certainy by more than UK would like.

But you also have to question how strongly UK wants to counter those assumptions. Barnhart declined an invitation to appear himself on Outside the Lines, which would’ve seemed a perfect opportunity to forcefully assert the school’s stance. He’s not a guy who likes to step into the spotlight, and I think that’s a sincere desire on his part.

But while an interview on the UK pregame radio show might reassure the base, it amounts to little more than preaching to the Big Blue Choir. There’s a lot of preaching to that choir going on lately, and while it’s a big choir, in the end it is a group that agrees with whatever UK says and does in the first place.

If UK is serious about countering opinions and assumptions like DeFord’s, it’s going to take more than a local effort to do it.

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