Today I saw the story break on ESPN that Memphis’ basketball program is facing NCAA charges that a former player cheated on his SATs. The player only played for the team for the 2007-2008 season and 2008 tournament.
The story states that if the allegations are proven true, Memphis could have to forfeit its Final Four appearance from that year. Then Memphis coach John Calipari was not named in the NCAA report, but in terms of image that doesn’t really matter. In 1996 Calipari lead UMass to its first Final Four appearance, but the school ended up having to vacate the appearance because of NCAA violations. He’s also been criticized throughout his career for low graduation rates. Due to the past violation by a program under his watch, Calipari will undoubtedly receive criticism for this current Memphis allegation regardless of whether or not the school is convicted. That’s just how image and reputation work. You don’t have to be convicted to tarnish your image.
Coach Cal will now face an uphill battle in his new job as head coach at Kentucky to reverse the negative connotations associated with him. I’m sure the PR people for Kentucky’s PR department will advise Calipari to do some volunteer work in the community, but I think this stigma associated with him is something that will take more time to change. It’s not an easy fix to simply throw out the image of community-friendly Calipari. He’s been involved in the community at past stops – that’s not the issue. This is something bigger that can really only be fixed through improved graduation rates and proper recruitment of stand-up high school seniors. It will be interesting to see what Calipari does at Kentucky.