Thursday, January 29, 2009

NCAA Recruiting

Northwestern delivered a less than convincing win over cellar-dwelling Indiana in Evanston last night. It truly is a remarkable reversal that any Northwestern victory over the storied Indiana program could be seen as unsatisfying. It seems like it was only yesterday that Bobby Knight was prowling about the Indiana sidelines in his red sweater freshly stained with the blood of impertinent freshmen, hurling candy at Northwestern students in a bizarre show of rapprochement after blowing up at Northwestern hecklers. Not that he is the only Big Ten coach to have a problem with the Wildcat faithful. I remember, although cannot find, an article where Gene Keady specifically lamented Northwestern's sharp heckling that raised the hackles of his comb-over. Paleontologists currently speculate that Keady's comb-over is used for internal temperature control, much like the non-dinosaur Dimetrodon's fin.

I talked briefly with Keady once. And,
you know, the thing about a Gene Keady,
he's got lifeless eyes. Black eyes. Like a
doll's eyes. When he comes at you, doesn't
seem to be living until he bites you, and
those black eyes roll over white and
then you hear that terrible high-pitched

As much as I enjoy watching a former Big Ten power get its teeth kicked in, it's hard to gloat over Tom Crean's lot after reading this SI piece about the fall of the program in the wake of the Kelvin Sampson dismissal. After Sampson left, IU lost six scholarhip players on top of Eric Gordon, who has been punished by joining the L.A. Clippers. Sampson certainly existed in the thick of college athletics' seedy underbelly with his numerous NCAA violations and his recruitment of players with weak academics and problems with pots. As the article describes:

"A Sampson recruit, Holman had been suspended for a season in high school for shoving a ref; his short temper surfaced in Crean's office. At one point, according to Crean, Holman became so animated that he grabbed a potted plant and threw it against the wall, triggering a call to campus police."

Kelvin Sampson and his assistants hit the recruiting trail in Indiana

It's clear that Sampson violated several recruiting violations in the intricate code that governs interactions between players and recruits, but the current NCAA rules basically institutionalize bizarre and seemingly arbitrary boundaries.

The NCAA recruiting regulations are
somewhat reminiscent of the Lever
ceremonies at Versailles, where the rigid
social hierarchy was clearly delineated by
one's proximity to the Sun King's person.


While Kelvin Sampson's gross recruiting violations have certainly upset basketball at Indiana, he could have been up to more nefarious crimes. In particular, Indiana fans can take comfort in the fact that Kelvin Sampson is most likely not a pirate.

Modern connotations of piracy involve doubloons, chin stubble, parrots, the word "arrr," and truly inept baseball organizations. These romanticized notions of piracy come from several sources. One of the most notable is Captain Charles Johnson who authored A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most notorious Pyrates first published in 1724. The volume publicized the exploits of several pirates such as Blackbeard and Black Bart and contains the word "sloop" roughly 27,000 times. The most interesting part of Pyrates is the unknown author: no one has identified a Captain Johnson in 1724 that could have published this book; literary scholars, or in this case people who research people who write pseudonymous accounts of eighteenth century pirate books which is probably one particularly tweedy man from a a corner of Britain so remote that his house is still fueled by coal and orphans, believe that Daniel Defoe is a potential author.

The other major source of piratical tales is of course Robert Louis Stevenson, whose Treasure Island is the standard text of the flintlock and cutlass set.

Robert Louis Stevenson (far right) took to the seas himself on this
apparently mustache-themed yacht in 1888


Piracy has been much in the news lately involving the seemingly out of control pirate attacks in the Gulf of Aden in Somalia. Piracy has experienced a boom since the collapse of the government in 1991, and the rise of the pirate society in Boosaaso is chronicled in this excellent New York Times article:

"The pirates use fast-moving skiffs to pull alongside their prey and scamper on board with ladders or sometimes even rusty grappling hooks. Once on deck, they hold the crew at gunpoint until a ransom is paid, usually $1 million to $2 million."

Do not bring your florins here

As the author Jeffrey Gettleman who is, I gather, the Times's number one man on the spot for all pirate related information notes, the pirates are not going anywhere:

"The pirates are sea savvy. They are fearless. They are rich and getting richer, with the latest high-tech gadgetry like handheld GPS units. And they are united."

Gettleman then, I presume, donned a colorful bandanna before throwing a smoke grenade and making off with a barrel full of spices from the Orient and the Spanish Crown Jewels.

The most brazen attack came in September, when pirates seized a Ukrainian freighter filled with military hardware including 33 T-72 Soviet-designed battle tanks, 150 grenade launchers, and 6 antiaircraft guns. The crew was unable to fight back due to the apparent difficulties in using tanks in naval battles, and the fact that grenade launchers lose their value when taken out of their collector packaging. In November, the Indian Navy declared that it had sunk a pirate mothership, which I found exciting because it marked the first time that the word "mothership" had been used in popular media since Jeff Goldblum was inexplicably a sci-fi action star in the mid-1990s. Unfortunately, it appears as though the pirate mothership was actually a Thai fishing boat.

For those who want even more information about piracy in the Gulf of Aden, UNOSAT has provided a series of informative hi-res maps charting the 2008: the year in piracy and density of pirate attacks. Do yourself a favor and use these wallpaper your house or van.


International cooperation has failed to crack down on pirates for a number of key reasons including the vast expanse of sea in which the tiny pirate vessels operate, the lack of a stable government in Mogadishu, and the continued operation of the mythical pirate mothership which presumably dictates all pirate movements under the control of a single pirate mastermind.

In the mid-nineteenth century, pirate raiders flourished in the river networks within Sarawak in the Borneo portion of what is now Malaysia.

British adventurer James Brooke brought his ship The Royalist, flying the menacing colors of the Royal Yacht Squadron, to the aid of the Sultan of Brunei. Brooke gained control of Sarawak as a gesture of gratitude from the Sultan and also because he trained his ship's guns on the royal palace and threatened to blow it asunder if his demands were not met. Once established as the White Raja of Sarawak, Brooke dedicated his rule to fighting piracy and taxing the hell out of the Chinese population.

Brooke was an early advocate of gunboat .
diplomacy. He reportedly developed an interest
for the strategy immediately after purchasing a

Though Brooke acted in the interests of Britain and occasionally used British vessels on his ongoing attacks on Sarawak's pirate community, he never gained official recognition from Britain as the bona fide Raja of Sarawak. In fact, Parliament led by self-appointed Victorian conscience Richard Cobden staged an inquiry into his prize-taking in 1850, but he was exonerated of the charge of inhumanity, which apparently was on the books in Britain in Victorian times despite the metaphysical implications.

Of course, the British Empire is out of white rajas to high-handedly seize territory and menace pirates with top of the line cannon technology. Perhaps to atone for his recruiting sins, Kelvin Sampson can get himself a fighting yacht and use his mastery of cell phones to get in touch with the Sultan of Brunei.


Anonymous said...

I think you just about managed that segue, just about. I like that the Times has a man on the spot when it comes to pirates. That dastardly bunch. But wait, a whole post on pirates and their merits or lack thereof and no mention of Mike Leach?

TC said...

The Gene Keady article also mentioned that the Northwestern (Band? Student Section?) gave him crap about his gold sports jacket, asking if he worked for Century 21.