On Friday, UConn released its highly-redacted response to the NCAA's allegations that the men's basketball program committed major recruiting violations and that head coach Jim Calhoun had failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance. The school and program admitted to the allegations, Calhoun has denied his. In addition, the school has decided to forgo two scholarships and put itself on two-years probation.
I've spent the last week trying to think about what I wanted to say about all this. I knew I wanted to say something, but I didn't know what. I've been consumed by a general feeling of malaise, because frankly, being a UConn fan right now sucks.
It sucks because UConn got caught doing something a lot of schools do, and that means that instead of being able to focus on being a fan and having fun, I have had to read about 500-page redacted reports that discuss the details of Nate Miles' knee surgery and who paid for it.
I love UConn, I always have and always will. Jim Calhoun and his players have had an extremely disproportionate impact on my life. I guess you could say this is just a basketball team, but this basketball team has given me some of my highest highs, biggest thrills and most painful broken hearts. It gave me a way to bond with my father and grandfather, and introduced me to countless new friends. But all of those things are because of what happened on the court.
Recently, all I've been able to focus on is what happens off of it. Yes, I know they're connected, but I can't be the only one looking forward to putting this behind us. UConn cheated, they got caught, they're in the process of being punished, and then, hopefully, we'll move on.
Back in March 2009, when Yahoo first published a story alleging all sorts of impermissible conduct in the program, I wrote a post headline "Buy the ticket, take the ride." In it, I wrote this:
I am not shocked by the allegations -- I think someone would have to be pretty naive about the nature of big time college sports to be surprised -- this is just a slightly different chapter in a story that has been told plenty of times before, just ask Oklahoma, Indiana, UMass or Missouri. I am sure that if they had the time, resources and ability, Yahoo Sports could publish a story a day for the next two weeks finding similar violations committed by every team in the Sweet 16. It is just the nature of the beast.
That still stands. If you're rooting for a team that plays big time college sports, you're almost certainly rooting for a team that has broken NCAA rules at some point. Is there a single competitive program in either college basketball or football whose implication in a scandal would surprise you? I can't name one.
I don't offer that as a defense of UConn. Simply put, they cheated. The got caught, they admitted it, and now they'll be punished. And yes, I know Calhoun is contesting the personal allegation against him. I hope he wins his appeal, but if he does or doesn't, it really doesn't matter because the stain is already on the program.
Thankfully, that stain can't take away '99 or '04 for me. It can't take away the memories of the Final Four I was at two years and it can't make the 6OT loss to Syracuse hurt any more or less.
What it can do, and has done, is make me enjoy following UConn less. I am sick and tired of waking up every day to put together the round up and seeing stories about Nate Miles and the NCAA.
Tomorrow, Calhoun and several other members of the athletic department will be in Indianapolis to testify in front of the NCAA's infractions committee and plead their case. It is the second to last step in this long and miserable journey. After tomorrow, the NCAA will have a few months to evaluate UConn's case and self-punishment and will hand down the final word on this sad, depressing saga. It will be over, we're almost there, and I can't wait.
That's not the only thing happening tomorrow though, because at 7 p.m. in Gampel Pavilion, UConn's basketball season will kick off with First Night, and finally, once again, I'll be able to focus on basketball. Last year was disappointing and the team is young. But there is hope, Kemba Walker is a stud, I have high hopes for Alex Oriakhi, and you never know when one of the freshman will surprise you. I don't know if they'll be any good. No one knows what this year will hold. But I'm excited, because I will know we'll be back to basketball, and I'll be back to being a fan. It's about time.