Final Four brings big programs to Big Easy

By Eddie Pells

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, March 29 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

"No, are you kidding?" Gee said with a laugh. "Let me be very clear. I'm just hoping the coach doesn't dismiss me."

The last year has not been the greatest for college sports, with child sex abuse allegations at Penn State and Syracuse and a number of scandals uncovered at Miami, North Carolina, Southern California, Tennessee and elsewhere.

This week, of course, is supposed to be a celebration of what's right with college sports. Yet it's hard not to ignore some tidbits that came up on the road to the Final Four:

—Louisville spent the first two weeks of the tournament off campus, not wanting to fly back and forth to play games scheduled by the NCAA in Portland and Phoenix.

—Last year's champion, Connecticut, isn't eligible to play in the tournament next year because of NCAA academic sanctions, though the school is appealing.

—USA Today reported the four Final Four coaches earned between $2.8 million (Matta) and $5.4 million (Calipari). Calipari and Pitino combine to make $10.2 million a year.

The NCAA hasn't been as big a player at Kansas, but that's not to say the Jayhawks are immune to corruption.

Last May, five athletic department employees and consultants got between 37 and 57 months' prison time for unlawfully selling football and basketball season tickets to ticket brokers and others, then pocketing the money.

Athletic director Lew Perkins saw his name sullied, and although he wasn't accused of any wrongdoing, he retired a year ahead of schedule in the wake of the scandal.

At Louisville, the NCAA didn't get involved, but Pitino certainly landed in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

His name was trending for months while details of his extramarital affair and the ensuing extortion trial were aired out in public. Pitino's reputation was damaged, and the woman who tried to bribe him to keep the thing secret got a seven-year prison sentence.

"A lot of times the last two years I took a lot of grief from a lot of people saying a lot of things," Pitino said last week after Louisville beat Florida to make his sixth Final Four. "And I never thought in my life I could turn the other cheek and just walk on. And I did. And some of the most ugly things I've heard, I just took it inside. And today, as I look back on it, I'm real proud that you could turn the other cheek."

This week, Pitino keeps looking forward, refusing to take the bait from all those Kentucky Wildcats fans, who may never forgive the 59-year-old coach for leaving them, heading to the NBA, then coming back a few years later to coach their archrival.

The Kentucky-Louisville story line is the best thing going this week in New Orleans, for what Calipari predicts will be an epic Final Four. Without any little teams cluttering up the court, this weekend will feature the most talent, Calipari says, since 2008, when he brought Memphis and Derrick Rose to the Final against Kansas and Mario Chalmers.

Jared Sullinger (Ohio State), Thomas Robinson (Kansas) and Davis (Kentucky) are first-team AP All-Americans. Those three teams all have other players who look very much like NBA material in the near future.

"2008 was ridiculous," said Calipari, whose trip to the final later was vacated by the NCAA because of violations. "Guess what? This Final Four will be very similar to that."

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