The Media and Sports Royalty

The web buzzed this morning over John Calipari’s remarks concerning Duke’s flopping, USA Today, Huffington, …

Coach K’s responded, but his reply subtly tells Calipari’s story, “There’s a difference between a charge and a flop. A flop means you don’t take any contact.”   So, it’s not a flop as long as there is some contact?

Maybe at Duke, that’s the meaning of a flop, but, I would describe it, more generally, as intending to fall rather than unavoidably falling.   By that definition, the flopping of Duke players during the Krzyzewski era has been more than obvious.  Even one of my friends who is a long time Duke fan readily admits to the practice.  By one standard, if you can gain an advantage, why not?  By another standard, however, advantages gained through “simulation” and exaggeration are cheating.  That’s the take of most EPL fans and observers on Luis Suarez from Liverpool FC and others like him, who treat falling down as an art form to be cultivated.  It’s also ironic for a team like Duke that plays very aggressive defense, which only increases the advantage gained from exaggerating the impact of offensive aggression.

It’s the media reaction to Calipari’s charge that’s the center of my post.  It’s as if Calipari dropped a bombshell that either the media had never considered or consider too inflammatory to utter in public — Duke charged with flopping, the audacity!  Andrew Sharp at SB Nation even credits Coach K with a “Hall of Fame comeback.”  Yes, Calipari is a coach in a game frustrated with calls, so I don’t expect his views to be unbiased.  My focus is not on Calipari  but rather on the meida’s treatment of the Duke program and Coach K specifically.  Why haven’t they been talking about Duke’s flopping for years?  Instead, Coach K get’s a pass — he’s above scrutiny just as Joe Paterno was above reproach at Penn State — and no, I’m equating flopping with sexual abuse.  Coaches with long records of success achieve a strange, unimpeachable status (and so do some players).  There was a statue of Paterno at Penn State  that attested to his invincibility.  Only a criminal scandal of large proportion initiated by external law enforcement brought scrutiny to the program.

Simple econ models treat the media as nothing more than a signal transmitter, but as I’ve written on this blog before, it’s more complex than that.  On the one hand, writers and reporters can be relentless and remorseless in their scrutiny.  Yet, for sports royalty, those traits vanish.   They turn into fawning devotees.  When would Joe Pa resign?  When he decided.  Is it a good idea to build monuments to people who are still on the payroll, or did this evidence that his legend had outgrown scrutiny?  Who would even ask such a thing. Even after the details of the story began to emerge, many in the media wanted to hold Paterno up above the mess for as long as possible.

Duke’s flopping and the events at PSU are light years apart in severity.  The similarity is in fawning to the king.   Just like Paterno, the only serious examination of Coach K from the media would be in the case of some event so far beyond the pale that then a switch flips like it did at PSU. I’m not hoping for or expecting such an event in Krzyzewski’s case — just noting that lesser follies, such as flopping or verbally assaulting a Duke student report, will never receive much genuine scrutiny.

Disclosure:  I’m neither a UK or Duke fan.

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Author: Brian Goff

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media, ncaa; basketball

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