A Potemkin Village is “a pretentiously showy or imposing façade intended to mask or divert attention from an embarrassing or shabby fact or condition.” The three Bloomberg writers who make this comparison – it appears in a long piece summarizing the ongoing national basketball scandal, which they call “the worst since college basketball players were caught shaving points for gamblers in the 1950s” – mean to suggest, I guess, that the glitzy University of Louisville basketball team masked whatever there was of the shabby non-basketball University of Louisville.

It’s quite a statement. Can we have gotten to the point where we’re not a tad astonished by it?

I mean, yes, one remembers the witty president of the University of Oklahoma back in the ‘fifties telling a senator he wanted to “build a university our football team can be proud of.” More recently, the president of Ohio State, “asked whether the school had considered firing embattled coach Jim Tressel, … said: ‘No. Are you kidding? Let me just be very clear. I’m just hopeful the coach doesn’t dismiss me.'” One has no trouble imagining how the puling little president of the University of Alabama feels about his stature vis-à-vis Nick Saban. And of course we know how the leadership of Penn State felt about that… curious couple, Sandusky and Paterno. Going to jail for them was a small price to pay.

Still…

**************

And does the analogy really work? For after all, as is the way with many big-time athletic programs, there was never a clear separation between the shabby embarrassing academic UL and the rich degenerate basketball UL. The squalor of college sports spreads itself all over the campus – literally, as in the way the University of Georgia campus for a long time looked the morning after big games; and figuratively, as in the establishment of a house of prostitution in a UL dorm for players, recruits, and the fathers of recruits.

It’s not really that you’ve got on the one hand the glitzy sports program and on the other the hidden humiliating university. The whole thing tends toward looking like the Calais Jungle.

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