Agrarianism, NCAA Hoops, and Loyalty to Place

by Jason Peters on March 29, 2009 · 6 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Short

More good news out of Kentucky (in addition to mountain-top removal and deforestation): Memphian Tiger John Calipari has been named the new coach of the beleaguered UK Wildcats, which means that the loyalty of MSU coach Tom Izzo, the Great Lakes State’s best-loved but much-coveted native son, remains inviolate.

Okay, Izzo’s a Yooper. But East Lansing is a lot closer than Lexington to Robert Traver country, and so far the highly successful Izzo (5 trips to the Final Four in eleven years and a national championship) has been able to fend off the hypermobility that Front Porcher Kauffman calls the “great undiagnosed malady” of our age.

But the malady has blasted Calipari–that plus the money, which tends to accompany the malady. According to the AP, he’ll get $31.65 million over eight years (such a long time to be in one place!) plus incentives amounting to a 2.5 million-dollar signing bonus.  Plus there will be a $200,000 buy-out payable to Memphis, which now needs a coach and may even need people to cover freshman English classes–at a rate of … well, adjuncts work for very little.  I remember doing it for between $1,100 and $1,300 per course per semester.

Meanwhile, the U of K will suffer, at least for now, about $10 million in budget cuts. That includes cuts to one of its best assets, the University Press of Kentucky, expertly manned by director Steve Wrinn, whose Culture of the Land series is one of the best things going right now.

What Calipari’s pocket change could do for that good press, that good series, and that good man breaks the heart that imagines it.

(And what rejoicing there will be Saturday in Rock Island if Izzo’s boys can knock off hateful, repellent, under-investigation, and aptly-named UConn.)

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Patrick Deneen April 2, 2009 at 3:23 am

Well, Peters, I admire your loyalty to your tribe. It’s a sign of character up here on the Front Porch. That said, you orta give ol’ Jim Calhoun a wee bit of credit. I’m not about to suggest the man is a saint – Lord knows you don’t win as many games at that level without some aggressive interpretations of the rules – but let’s consider some facts that we Front Porchers tend to take seriously when we consider the content of a man’s character. He’s a product of New England – can’t mistake that Bahston accent for anything else – and has spent his entire coaching career either in Connecticut or Massachusetts. His college coaching basketball career has been spent at only two schools – Northeastern in Boston, and UConnn in Storrs (hardly a glamor town). That’s 23 years at UConn and 14 at Northeastern, and before that stints as a High School coach in either CT or MA. The man is an embodiment of the very opposite of the hypermobility that you rightly decry, and that seems an epidemic among many of the top college coaches (Calipari, Pitino, etc. – ironically, both with no prior connection to Kentucky or the region, yet who have been recruited to that school by a mercenary ethic that seems to have infected a once-storied program).

As for his character – well, he’s a bruiser, but one would expect that of someone who became the head of his family at the age of 15 when his father died of a heart attack, and who spent much of his youth working various odd jobs, including a granite cutter, headstone engraver, scrapyard worker, shampoo factory worker, and gravedigger. He’s made a bundle of money in his position at UConn – hardly an exception among elite coaches – but he has given quite a bit back in money and time, particularly in causes that seek to raise money for cancer research. Hardly someone who’s a product of easy living, and I think helpful in understanding his admirable loyalty to place.

College basketball is a corrupt and corrupting industry. One wishes fervently it was what it once was – a minor extra-curricular activity pursued by students who themselves were largely drawn from local surroundings and who intended to return to those places for which those institutions were founded to serve. I grew up in Connecticut, and can still remember trips to the UConn gym (a VERY modest affair, more akin to a High School gym than its modern incarnation as a professional stadium), chatting with the players at halftime, mucking around in the dust under the fold out stadium seats, in general experiencing it as a local activity, not much different than going to Jim’s Pizza or a summer band concert on the Windsor town green. We’re a long time and another place from those days, but you and I both are displaced but loyal sons of somewhere, and in that humble spirit, I hope our shirts kick the shite out of your shirts this weekend.

avatar Russell Arben Fox April 2, 2009 at 11:58 am

Okay, Izzo’s a Yooper.

Hmm…so, his birth and childhood amongst the chilly, beautiful hills, forests and bays of the Upper Peninsula makes mildly questionable the appropriateness of his claim on Michigan as a whole, or their claim on him? Oh give me a break. The Yoopers are a fine and distict bunch of Scandinavians, sure, and no doubt if all state lines were rationally ordered they’d be Wisconsinites, but it’s not like the Toledo War never happened, eh? The states, arbitrary as they are, have their own identity and integrity, and any given Yooper is as likely to bleed blue as any other resident of the Wolverine state. (So say my in-laws in Ypsi.)

avatar James Matthew Wilson April 2, 2009 at 7:50 pm

I remember going to college in Ann Arbor and meeting exotic Yoopers for the first time. It really challenged my understanding of cultural identity and moral norms and caused me to be a more open-minded person. To fulfill my college diversity requirement, I interviewed a Yooper and asked him to say various English words in his native tongue. That really shattered the walls of perception that had kept me “boxed in” to certain patriarchal assumptions so typical of us folks from the lower penninsula. It almost never occurs to us, for instance, to base an entire economy on housing prison inmates from other states. But they sure do that in the UP! So diverse. The music there is so non-western, e.g. “Grammaw got run over by a reindeer.” Most American music only speaks of grandmothers being run over by domestic animals.

I just pray that Monday night, I sit down to watch Nova square off against MSU.

avatar Russell Arben Fox April 2, 2009 at 8:52 pm

Perhaps you could have arranged to have some pasties made for ethnic food month in the cafeteria, James.

avatar James Matthew Wilson April 4, 2009 at 7:39 pm

The nine native Michiganders just carried the Spartans into the title game. Pour yourself a glass of cherry wine, and down a pasty.

When I was a boy, we were taught in school that Michigan was the only state that could “put three square meals on the table every day.” Well, it’s been awhile since anyone in Michigan felt well fed, but at least, tonight, they left UConn feeling well beaten.

avatar Andy April 6, 2009 at 11:18 pm

Agrarianism, NCAA Hoops, and loyalty to place?

Consider, the fight song of the kings of Tobacco Road…

I’m a Tar Heel born,
I’m a Tar Heel bred,
and when I die
I’m a Tar Heel dead,

So, it’s rah, rah, Car’lina, -lina
Rah, Rah, Car’lina, -lina
Rah, Rah, Carolina.
Go to Hell, Duke!*

(*Duke… the University of New Jersey at Durham… the epitome of rootless transience and elitism)

There are Charles Kuralt’s words:
“It is not the well, or the bell, or the stone walls, the crisp October nights or the memory of dogwoods blooming… No, our love for this place is because it is as it was meant to be: The University of the People.”

And, Thomas Wolfe’s:
“But sometimes when the springtime comes, and the shifting moonlight falls–They’ll think again of this night here, and of these old brown walls. Of the white Old Well and of Old South. With the bell’s deep booming tone, they’ll think again of Chapel Hill-and thinking-come back home.”

Then, there’s Roy the homegrown coach and M.J. the homegrown superstar.

Congrats, Tar Heels!

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