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Copyright 2018 The Evansville Courier Co.
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Evansville Courier & Press (Indiana)


Moments after winning what proved to be the last of Mark Fox's 296 games as Georgia's coach, Kentucky's John Calipari lobbied unsuccessfully for Fox to keep his job.

"There's a lot of stuff going on out there, stuff that's not going on at Georgia," Calipari said. "... That has to mean something."

To catch Calipari's drift, one only needs a cursory glance at college basketball's current peril and FBI investigation. Or as Christopher Smith of Cox Media Group tweeted: "Mark Fox is like a power hitter during the steroids era that didn't juice."

When it comes to Fox, this has been expressed many times, usually off the record, sometimes on it. Even UGA athletic director Greg McGarity sounded almost apologetic in announcing Fox's dismissal: "Days like today are very difficult, especially when you are talking about someone like Mark Fox."

If they're all to be believed, Georgia fired a clean coach during perhaps the worst scandal the sport has experienced since the point-shaving of the 1950s.

Lest anyone miss the forest for the trees, such a development wasn't about Fox as much as it is about the increasingly troubling perception of his sport.

Is it even possible to win in college basketball right now at the highest levels without cheating to do it?

Has the NCAA let one of its most high-profile sports reach a point of lawlessness where in order to keep up - and keep your job - you have no choice but to break the rules?

Fox's firing wasn't all that surprising, mind you. He won some at Georgia, but he simply didn't win enough. He never won an NCAA Tournament game in nine seasons, reaching the field only twice. He basically enjoyed modest success during an extended down period in the SEC, but when the league improved in 2017-18, the Bulldogs did not. They finished 12th of 14 teams despite having the conference's player of the year in Yante Maten.

Yes, Fox did recruit some good players to Georgia. Maten was one of them. NBA lottery pick Kentavious Caldwell-Pope - SEC player of the year in 2013 - spent two seasons with Fox at UGA. But there just weren't enough difference-makers to ever get the program over the hump. Recruiting became a popular criticism. Time and again, Georgia would pursue some of the nation's best talents in nearby Atlanta, come close and then miss out, often to programs nowhere near the state.

So there Fox was on selection Sunday, discussing his firing at a glum press gathering with reporters in Athens, one of whom asked, "How difficult is it to win doing it the right way?"

Fox chose his words carefully, taking about 15 seconds to respond.

"You can win doing it the right way," Fox said. "You have to have everything aligned to do that. You really do. But it can still be done. But it's impossible unless everything else is lined up for you."

Everything else, as Fox went on to explain, includes "some tradition on your side" (which he didn't have at Georgia) and "an understanding within your team and your immediate family about exactly how hard you're going to have to work to do it the right way."

"I'm not saying that my tenure ended here at Georgia because everybody else was cheating," Fox told reporters. "I'm going to worry about what we did. I'll let you guys worry about everybody else, but it's a challenging time certainly in college basketball right now, and the frustrating thing a little bit has been that only a tiny bit of what occurs has been exposed. That's the disheartening thing for the game of basketball."

Fox's departing comments at Georgia hold importance because they are rare, but it's not like he's about to offer names and details.

With misdeeds so often obscured, no one outside of the sport can be certain who is cheating in basketball and who is not. We can suspect. But we don't really know.

This has created a code inside the sport. College basketball's coaches, to a man, will universally adhere to it in public forums or risk being ostracized in their profession. Plus, no clean coach would ever want to use that as an excuse while coaching his team, thus indirectly criticizing the worth of players who did choose to play for him?

It took a federal investigation with wiretaps and undercover agents to get us to this point with college basketball's secrets, and honestly, it's not that far. We still don't know enough specifics - and probably won't - about how bad cheating has gotten.

But this much is clear: College basketball is broken.

Georgia's Mark Fox has been rumored to be on the hot seat as far as his job security. Matt Stone, Courier Journal
March 14, 2018


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