The Problem of Average Elitism

I was reading a column about Andy Rooney right after he died. I think it was written by Chuck Klosterman. And his main point was that he liked Andy Rooney so much because Rooney was completely free of subtext. So much of what we watch/read/listen to these days is about something else. If Andy Rooney spent 5 minutes telling you how much he disliked mustard, that 5 minutes was about exactly one thing; how much Andy Rooney disliked mustard.

It wasn’t a metaphor about society’s need to dress things up, or change the fundamental nature of something by adding something completely foreign and unrelated to it, or be completely unable to be good with the original version of something without making 50 offshoots of that thing and how this speaks to our discontent with our own lives.

Nope. He didn’t like mustard. And here’s five minutes on exactly why.

I’m not Andy Rooney, so what you’re about to read is quite possibly about something else entirely. Something completely out of my hands at the moment. Something that will pass, but right now is the cause for a great deal of upset for me personally. But it’s also about what it’s about.

I’m so angry that UK is in the Final Four again I can barely have a pleasant human interaction with anyone right now. And it’s not Chapter Five stuff. (Please click the link to the right and buy my book. Chapter Five is pretty crucial to my entire IU world view, and understanding that will help you more than you know). Or at least, not only Chapter Five stuff.

I’m mad because it’s Kentucky and I hate Kentucky and want nothing but bad things to happen to that team and program. I’m mad because I hate what John Calipari is doing to college basketball with this one-and-done nonsense that he didn’t create, but is certainly willing to exploit and complain about at the same time.

But it’s much, much bigger than that.

I’m going to start by linking to this story on peegs. It’s premium content, so if you don’t have a subscription, don’t bother. To quickly summarize, they did a very rough statistical analysis on the Top 10 programs, as laid out by a Sports Illustrated article, which can be read here. They looked at the following categories:

Average Overall Record
Tournament Performance
Aberrant Season

There are a number of holes in the model they chose to use, and a number of factors consciously left out, like strength of schedule, and conference strength, but the overall message was clear.

We don’t measure up on any of these criteria with the other Top 10 programs.

The Average Overall Record benchmark is 28-8 (to be exact it’s 28.3 wins and 7.9 losses) Our average from 2011-2013 is exactly 28-8. We have a two year stretch that meets the average. Go look at our other records. I can’t bring myself to do it, but they are worse than 28-8.

The average Tournament Performance is just over 2 wins. That means, the average is the Sweet Sixteen plus .3. That .3 means the other 9 schools go to the Elite 8 on occasion.

The Aberrant Season for none of these programs involved fewer than 19 wins or missing the NIT.

In short, our best is average and our worst is subpar.

This pisses me off.

Now, let’s look at Kentucky.

Do you know how many times during the Michigan game they pointed out that UK had been to the Elite Eight four of the last five years? It was more times than UK has been to the Elite Eight in the last five years, I can assure you that. And that run includes three Final Fours and one title.

Under every conceivable measuring stick that doesn’t involve Christian Watford, UK is a better, more successful program than IU right now, and has been pretty consistently for the last 20 years.

This is true. It makes me want to punch things, but it is true.

You know what else is true?

We’re on this list on the power of things done by players, who today, are in their 40s and 50s.

People making the argument that we are an Elite program right now are Walter Sobchak. They are living in the past. Feel free to argue the “Three Thousand Years of beautiful tradition from Moses to Sandy Koufax,” position. That is your prerogative.

But I find that to be of decreasing comfort as I watch someone like Calipari take a program like Kentucky and succeed while we fail.

None of this changes my fundamental position that one bad season is no reason to make a coaching change. Tom Crean is the only IU coach in the last 20 years to get us up to Elite Average. And to do that after starting from a bottom none of these schools had to start from is nothing short of amazing. True, he also has to own the Escalator to Nowhere that was this season. That goes on his resume, too. But he built to the last two years on far shakier ground. He’ll do that again, and in less time than it took previously.

But today, I’m pissed. But not at Crean. I’m pissed at stupid reality.

And the reality is that we aren’t what we all want us to be. We aren’t a program going to four Elite Eights in Five Years. We aren’t even a tournament team right now.

We want to be considered Elite because we once were Elite.

But, to quote Chris Rock, “New Jack City was a long time ago.”

As mad as I am today, however, all hope is not lost.

Sirius XM has graced us with a limited engagement 24-hour Billy Joel station and I heard “Keeping the Faith” from the Innocent Man album over the weekend. And this line I find helpful.

“The good ole’ days weren’t always good, and tomorrow’s not as bad as it seems.”

We tend to romanticize our past, by focusing on the championship seasons and what-iffing the Scott May, Ted Kitchel and Alan Henderson injuries. We gloss over the ’84 and ’85 seasons because Alford won a title in 1987, but that group of seniors needed a shared Big Ten title in 1987 to avoid becoming the first four-year class under Knight not to win a Big Ten title at least once. We write off Sampson’s two years because of what they were. We have all agreed to forget ’04 and ’05 and to remember ’02 only for the Championship run and ignore that the Big Ten title that we won was shared with THREE OTHER SCHOOLS. And I know we all agreed not to talk about Knight’s impressive run of first round NCAA exits to end the 90s, but I just talked about it anyway.

And we’re feeling kind of pessimistic about the future because people are transferring and we’ve had two years in a row where our heralded recruiting classes did not lead us to the Final Four, so why should we assume that adding James Blackmon, Jr., Max Hoetzel, and Robert Johnson to this mix (plus whatever late signees and/or Juco players we land to round out the roster) will? I don’t know. We probably shouldn’t. But stupid UK lost in the opening round of the NIT to Robert Morris last year and are in the Final Four right now after looking like the biggest underachieving recruiting class since UK’s last one, so things happen.

But the bar has been set. 28 wins and the Sweet Sixteen is the average we’re looking to hit if we want to stay in that Elite conversation. And the bad news is, that in order to get to a four year 28-8 average next year we need to go 39-1, which is doubtful.

If you want Average Elitism, you’re going to have to wait a couple of years, and they’re going to have to be a couple of VERY good years. So, it’s be patient, or start all over. And starting all over isn’t a viable option for a number of reasons.

Here’s hoping for a couple of VERY good years because I’m tired of being mad.

Jeff Taylor