Unattributed Quotes Generate Needed Accountability: A Response to Decourcy on “Most-Cheating” Quotes

The estimable Mike DeCourcy, one of college basketball’s best, most hard-working, and good-humoured writers, has posited that unattributed quotations about the reputation/performance of college basketball coaches — by other coaches – are out of bounds. (Coaches Who Voted in Survey about ‘Perceived’ Cheating Should Be Ashamed.‘) His comments had to do with a CBS ‘Eye on College Basketball‘ article entitled, ‘Critical Coaches: Who is Perceived to be the Biggest Cheater in the Sport?

I think I disagree, and I’ll  play with this a bit. The premise here appears to be that positive “anonymous” comments by a coach for publication are “right action”, whereas negative ones are “catty”, and, therefore, not “right action.”

I’m not so sure. One of the major “what-have-we-learned-from-this” lessons from the Paterno/Sandusky scandal is that sports coaches are certainly not gods.  In fact, what with Tressel and Paterno– both erstwhile paragons of coaching, leadership, and virtue – having recently been so rudely shoved off the cliff on Mount Adulation by revelations of their proven and long-running fraud and serial, affirmative, and intentional lying, one might also conclude that a sycophantic, sloppy sports press has played a major “too-big-to-nail” role in a long history of (still-exploding) coach deification. And that a more healthy, hairy-eyeballed presumption now is that a coach at a major college basketball or football school has some lukewarm-to-warm likelihood of being a scoundrel.

Add to this that – like it or not — one of the primary, commonplace, vehicles for building public figure accountability is the unattributed quotation utilized by reporters. I know, I know, there’s a tension there, and we all would wish that every quote had a name attached. Judith Miller is an example of a reporter caught in that moral swamp within which all reporters slog throughout their careers – who not only let it overwhelm whatever moral governor she might have initially have had, but also then apparently surrendered any pretense of favoring the public good over her own hotrod ambition.

But – particularly as regards the performance of “public figures” – responsible journalism not only can, but should, “work” with the unattributed quote.  More particularly as regards the performance of public figures who happen to be on the public payroll.  And even more particularly as regards those kinds of publicly-paid public figures who garner the kinds of whopping outsized multi-million dollar salaries we see coaches now receive.

Add to this reporting “vacuum” within which Head Coaches tend to operate – whether it’s seen as large or small – is a propensity on the part of the NCAA to give Head Coaches massive latitude in NCAA enforcement actions – the kind of latitude (evident in the OSU, Michigan, Georgia Tech, and even UNC cases, just to name a few) which is encapsulated in the NCAA’s de facto maxim: “Coaches never lie, players do.” And then add the fact that modern Athletic Departments operate – to borrow a phrase used by Sarah Ganim on Meet the Press recently – like “the Kremlin”, with a propensity to forbid public access and maximize PR spin, helps make access to truthful information about Head Coaches all the more difficult.

Big time Head Coaches generally exist within an accountability insterstitial space. The normal forces of accountability have not been adequate or fully functional. These ersatz-mythology heroes are just coaches, and negative information is not, therefore, per se objectionable.

The CBS “poll” admittedly presents an unwieldy sort of ‘rough justice’ set of data through the anonymous sources. Unreliable? Perhaps. Inaccurate. Maybe. But I’ll take it. After all — it’s the closest thing this profession has to any peer review whatsoever (!)

In this false market within which big time Athletics/Entertainment complexes on campuses operate, schools are precluded from allowing the world-wide standard inducement – competing offers of increasing amounts of money – to woo exceptional performer-athletes to their schools. Partially as a result, the Head Coach is often hired to use his Professor Harold Hill, Carnival Barker mixture of ostensible avuncular earnestness, reliability, and charm to successfully woo those kids to sign. It’s increasingly a realm where the scoundrel — like Tressel, like Paterno — has succeeded, in a Kremlin-cocoon. Time to shake up the realm, and bust up the cocoon. The public needs feedback, of all kinds, even unattributed quotes.

All that said, I loved the mysterious quote about Scott Drew, which suggested that the commenter was more offended by Drew’s religion-draped hypocrisy, than he was about any “cheating” in which Drew was engaged.


About brewonsouthu

Michigan and Big Ten fan, former lawyer, with interest in college sports and NCAA oversight and decisions, and sports generally.
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