Wednesday, January 12, 2011

UConn shouldn't be flattered by comparisons to UCLA

We pretty much stayed out of the UConn women vs. UCLA men "debate", in part because we think the whole thing is silly. But we also think the comparison is unfair to UConn, because it's hardly flattering to be compared to one of the biggest rule-breaking programs in NCAA history.

Ever hear of Sam Gilbert? UCLA's players during the 1960s and 70s certainly knew who he was. That Gilbert was funneling money, gifts and favors to the Bruins was one of the worst-kept secrets in sports during the Bruins' so-called glory years.

The NCAA apparently had no stomach to launch an investigation. The Los Angeles Times did, though,

The Times established that Gilbert, during (John) Wooden's heyday, helped players get cars, clothes, airline tickets and scalpers' prices for UCLA season tickets. Gilbert allegedly even arranged abortions for players' girlfriends. One former UCLA All-American told The Times: "What do you want me to say? That's my school. I don't want to see them take away all those championships." Gilbert considered many NCAA rules arcane and silly.

Wooden says he didn't know. So the coach who was so meticulous he instructed his players how to wear their socks in practice didn't know those same players were in bed with Gilbert? Strange.
But let's say he really didn't. Well, Pete Carroll said he didn't know Reggie Bush was on the take from an agent. Cam Newton said he didn't know his father was trying to shake down Mississippi State. We usually roll our eyes at these claims of ignorance. But in the eyes of many, Wooden's legacy - and those of his teams - remains pristine.

Look, Wooden was no doubt a great coach, and his methods and wisdom inspired generations. But whether he was party to it or not, Wooden's greatest teams were underwritten by the biggest sugar daddy of his era.

So the next time someone puts UConn in a class with UCLA, Geno Auriemma ought to tell 'em thanks, but no thanks.

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