The Battle Against Perceived Reality

No college basketball coach has ever been vilified more by the national media for perceived wrongdoing than Jerry Tarkanian when he was at UNLV, and now a post on a popular sports website has attached the “cheater” label to second-year Rebel coach Dave Rice.

CBSSports.com asked nearly 100 coaches this summer, “Who is perceived by college coaches to be the biggest cheater in the sport?” Kentucky’s John Calipari ranked first, at 36 percent, but tied for fifth (with Indiana’s Tom Crean) is Rice at 3 percent.

So what basis did one of the accusing coaches give for his anonymous damning of Rice?

“They’ve gotta be doing something at UNLV.”

Yep, that’s it. Land a couple of big-name recruits over two years, and obviously you must be a cheater.

First off, even the most math-challenged person can figure that 3 percent of nearly 100 coaches is, yes, three coaches. Rebel fans can probably think of at least two Mountain West rival coaches who would be more than happy to throw some stink onto the Rebels’ reputation.

So what was CBS Sports’ motive in printing this? The site claims that it decided to report on perception because “perception is usually treated as reality. 

“Let me start by making one thing clear—that we are CBSSports.com are not calling anybody a cheater,” Gary Parrish writes, “because it’s unfair to call anybody a cheater without proof.”

But Parrish doesn’t “start” by making this clear. This sentence comes more than halfway through the article, after the coaches’ accusations have been reported without any substantiation. And in any case, if you know that it’s unfair to call someone a cheater without proof, why do you invite coaches to call one another cheaters without proof? Unless you’re a sociologist attempting to find the roots of the witch-trial mentality, this just doesn’t cut it as research.

So much for professionalism. Labeling a coach as “overrated” or “underrated” in a poll, as CBS Sports also did, is one thing. But CBS’ branding of coaches as cheaters while hiding behind the cloak of “perception” is completely irresponsible, no matter what it claims otherwise.

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