With the news Thursday that Kansas basketball is (back) in the NCAA pokey, it might be time to measure the elite programs of America's shadiest college sport a little differently.
In addition to banners, let's document probations. Open the record book, tap into the NCAA infractions database. Now read the following Who's Who list and ask yourself: Can you win big, over the long haul, without cheating?
Start with the Jayhawks, since they're the program in the news today: two NCAA Tournament championships, 12 Final Fours ... and now five NCAA probations for men's basketball. When you're a minus-three in the titles-to-probations ratio, that's not good.
Kansas began the Roy Williams Era in the late 1980s on a postseason ban, due to the sins committed by Larry Brown on his way to the 1988 national championship. Fitting, then, that St. Roy The Dadgum Pious' reign in Lawrence officially closed Thursday on violations cited by the NCAA: payments of more than $5,000 from a booster to two prospects and their families; and two other boosters providing graduation gifts to players with the knowledge of Kansas athletic department officials -- including St. Roy, according to the Committee on Infractions report. Most of those violations occurred before Williams left for North Carolina.
Move on to UCLA. The Bruins won 11 NCAA Tournament championships, far more than everyone else. But the NCAA Committee on Infractions database also credits the Bruins with three major rules violations. All of them occurred after John Wooden hung up his wand in Westwood, which means the rumors about Sam Gilbert's work for the program never stuck.
Move next to Kentucky. The Wildcats have won seven national titles
among four coaches -- the only school to cut down the nets with any more than three different coaches. But UK basketball has quite the tradition of NCAA malfeasance as well: four cases in the major-infraction database, including the very first death penalty, even if it wasn't called that. Kentucky's entire 1953-54 season was canceled because of rules violations. The Cats might not have invented cheating, but they seem to have been good at it before anybody else.
How about North Carolina? Surely the squeaky-clean Tar Heels have no NCAA rap sheet, right? Nope. The Tar Heels were tagged with a one-year postseason ban in 1961 for "improper entertainment and lodging" and "improper recruiting entertainment." And now their current coach has earned himself a frickin' footnote as the coach of record during the malfeasance at Kansas.
Let's try Duke, owner of three NCAA championships. Certainly the circumspect Dookies are as perfect as they purport to be. Or maybe not. In August 1972, the NCAA hit Duke with a one-year postseason ban. And while few coaches have a rep as shiny as Mike Krzyzewski's, some people love to chirp about a few players of recent vintage -- most notably Corey Maggette's involvement with outright AAU renegade Myron Piggie.
So we turn to Indiana. A beacon of morality in the darkness. An exemplar of virtue in a den of thieves. Five national titles, zero major infractions in men's basketball. Here's to clean livin'.
But wait. What about the current coach of the Hoosiers, Mr. Kelvin Sampson? IU hired Sampson last spring, knowing he had admitted to major violations at Oklahoma. Sure enough, the NCAA brought the hammer down on Sampson in late May, prohibiting off-campus recruiting and officially transferring some of the taint of scandal from Norman to previously pristine Bloomington.
Now, fans of every school on this list will undoubtedly rationalize their way out of past sins while eagerly pointing the finger at their rivals. But it's all moral relativism in a sport where the cynical among us -- yep, that's me -- can easily suspect that everybody's doing something shady.
And lets' face it: screaming, "What about THEM?" isn't the noblest defense.
Kansas fans have taken predictable glee at the serial scams of their border rival, Missouri. And the Quin Snyder-led Tigers deserved every potshot they took, every hit to a reputation that already was damaged by Norm Stewart and his staff in the early 1990s.
But then the boomerang comes back to Lawrence and clonks the Jayhawks in the head. Again.
The aspect of the Kansas case that should trouble its fans most was the trip a booster (identified in media reports as Don Davis) gave to a recruit (identified as current Jayhawk Darnell Jackson) and his AAU coach for the 2004 NCAA Tournament regional semifinals and final. The booster paid for all transportation, lodging and meals for both the player and AAU coach, according to the NCAA report.
Not only that, the report says the three had the temerity to get comp tickets from the school for those games, listed as guests of a Kansas player. Checking comp ticket lists should be fairly elementary work, either by the compliance office or a member of the basketball staff. Names of non-family members should be red-flagged and checked out.
But most compliance offices lack sufficient manpower to do their due diligence. At some point, they have to count on coaches, boosters and players all to do the right thing when nobody's looking.
And as the NCAA major infractions database shows, college basketball has a rich history of failing to do just that. The elite programs have a history of cutting almost as many compliance corners as championship nets.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.