John Clay: Anonymous polls give fans gossip they'll read, not facts they need

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistAugust 22, 2012 

Venezuela Olympic Qualifier Basketball

Dominican Republic Coach John Calipari gestured during a third-place Olympic qualifier against Nigeria.

FERNANDO LLANO — ASSOCIATED PRESS

Give CBSSports.com credit for one thing.

It has managed to sum up everything that is entertaining and egregious about the Internet in one series of posts.

College basketball is the subject. A naked play for page views is CBS Sports' transparent goal.

The Web site has been posting results from an anonymous poll of college basketball coaches who were asked gossipy questions about cheaters, dirty recruiters, overrated coaches and the like.

The results have been predictable.

Question: Who is perceived to be the biggest cheater in the sport?

Survey says: John Calipari, of course.

Question: Which players' recruitment is perceived to be the dirtiest of the past decade?

Survey says: Shabazz Muhammad at No. 1, with Anthony Davis a close No. 2.

I'm waiting to find out which coach is perceived to be most likely to be cheating on his wife.

This isn't to take up for the hometown star or hometown coach. Some Kentucky fans were labeling Calipari the biggest cheater in all of college basketball before he came to Kentucky, where now those fans fiercely defend him against such accusations.

At the same time, CBS Sports has turned college basketball coaches into those anonymous commenters at the end of Internet stories or posts, the ones who can say practically anything about anybody without having to (a) produce one shred of proof or (b) stand behind their accusations with a real name.

Sure, the results are entertaining to read, but any significance is completely undercut by cowardice.

What's worse is CBS's weasly use of the word "perceived" in the inquiries.

It isn't actually asking which coach is the biggest cheater, or which prospect was subject to the dirtiest recruitment of the past decade. It's asking which is "perceived" to be the biggest cheater or dirtiest recruit.

Similar question: Have you stopped beating your wife yet?

To begin with, coaches' polls are not noted for their honesty. Latest example: Southern Cal football coach Lane Kiffin claimed he would never vote his own as the No. 1 team in the nation. Then USA Today released Kiffin's ballot which showed he did vote the Trojans No. 1.

This may come as a surprise, but a fair number of coaches in any sport despise a fair number of coaches in that same sport. Grudges can be applied, angles played.

And do not confuse an anonymous poll with an anonymous source. In journalistic terms, the latter provides information that, if at all possible, can be verified before being released for public consumption. Real whistle-blowers serve an important function in our society. Anonymous coaches just wear whistles.

Also, slandering other coaches is one thing. Slandering high school kids is something else entirely.

According to CBS, an anonymous coach said of the Davis recruitment: "I've never seen a recruitment get shut down as quickly as that one got shut down. I don't know how they did it. But it was a strong play."

CBS Sports says this is all meant to be interesting and readers should take the results with a grain of salt. Tell that to Muhammad or Davis.

There is no doubt that college basketball recruiting is a bottomless cesspool. For further evidence, check out Pete Thamel's story in the New York Times last weekend about former West Virginia player Jonathan Hargett, now in prison.

Thamel reports that Dan Dakich left West Virginia after just eight days as head coach in part because Hargett told him he had been promised $60,000 and had only received $20,000.

By the way, Dakich said that for print.

Such candor is how you clean up college basketball, not gossip from anonymous coaches.

The latter is supermarket tabloid stuff. It might be fun glancing at the sensational headlines while waiting in the check-out line, but that doesn't mean you have to buy.

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv.

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