Is Cheating the New Norm in Sports?

There was a news headline last week that you probably didn’t notice unless you’re either a fanatical college basketball fan or a resident of Kentucky. The University of Kentucky was forced to stop claiming that its men’s head basketball coach, John Calipari, has 500 career victories, since 42 of those victories were vacated by the NCAA. In other words, the NCAA decided that the wins didn’t count due to violations by Calipari’s teams. Kentucky argued that the wins occurred even if they were declared null and void later. But the NCAA disagreed. So Kentucky released a statement admitting it was wrong to credit the coach with 500 wins.

That story is significant not because it is a shocking oddity but because it represents a trend in college sports. Indeed, it’s difficult to find a successful college basketball coach who has not had some of his wins erased for cheating. The list of men who have had NCAA Tournament appearances vacated is striking. It includes Arizona’s legendary Lute Olson; late North Carolina State coach Jim Valvano; Larry Brown, the only coach to win championships at both the college and NBA levels; Purdue’s longtime coach Gene Keady; and San Diego State’s Steve Fisher, formerly of Michigan fame.

Yet basketball is not the only offending sport. Recently Ohio State forced head football coach Jim Tressel to resign for covering up a scandal, lying to the NCAA, and playing ineligible players. Auburn’s Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Cam Newton was under investigation after his father attempted to sell his athletic abilities to Mississippi State for $180,000 under the table. And the list could go on.

While most fans will continue to follow their favorite teams untroubled by NCAA rules infractions, Christian sports fans should at least pause to reflect on them. And one conclusion is unavoidable: cheating has become an expected part of sports—from the little leaguer who throws a spit ball to the high school football player who fakes an injury to stop the clock to the golfer who kicks his ball out of a divot during a tournament. Add to that the fans who encourage such behavior and the parents of athletes who facilitate it, and it is no wonder that cheating is the norm by the time elite athletes reach college.

Unfortunately, Christians too often conform to the cheating pattern rather than obeying Jesus’ command to be salt and light in every arena of life. Tressel, for example, is a professing Christian. But how marvelous it would be if believers confronted the culture of cheating in modern sports with the same type of courage that they used to abolish slavery, challenge Hitler, and oppose communism in Eastern Europe. Admittedly, athletics are not as weighty as stopping the Holocaust or toppling the Berlin Wall, but Christians must not forget the need for gospel leaven on the court and the field.

About David Roach

David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press in Nashville, Tennessee, and a contributor to both BibleMesh and Kairos Journal. He holds a philosophy degree from Vanderbilt University and earned his PhD in church history at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His writings have appeared in academic journals and various Southern Baptist denominational publications.
  • James

    I thought you and your readers might be interested in my latest novel, How to Rig the NCAA Basketball Championship for Fun and Profit. It’s a tale about a college basketball referee with troubles on and off the court who decides the solution to all his problems, and maybe those of college basketball too, is rigging college basketball’s biggest game. And, as a byproduct, he planned to make millions of dollars in the process.

    Do you think it can’t happen?  Think again.  The books includes notes on not only how it can be done, but also on how easy it might be.


    If you would like to review the book for your readers, I’ll provide a complimentary copy, publish your review on my website with a link to your site and provide space for any additional

    comments you may have.

    For additional information, the complimentary review copy or an author interview, please e-mail me at or call 815-963-8383.

    Thanks in advance,

    James Wolfe

    Press release

    How to Rig the NCAA Basketball Championship for Fun and Profit is a humorous, poignant and alarming novel about a guy who plans to rig the biggest college game of them all for revenge and a whole lot of money.

    Over the many years Stanley Osborn officiated, college basketball had grown into a huge business, enriching universities, coaches, equipment and apparel manufactures, donors and the NCAA at the expense of the players. The brutal treatment of refs by rabid fans and overpaid coaches increased along with the game’s popularity. Coping with the scrutiny of the media and the many conference and NCAA officials was becoming tougher. Even convincing his wife and daughter that his avocation was worth his time away from home was harder each season. But most troubling was reconciling the sleazier aspects of big-time college sports with its purpose of providing fair, equitable and sportsmanlike competition as part of the higher educational experience of the student-athlete. 

    Finally, after being suspended for tossing perhaps the best coach in the sport out of a key game, Stan had had enough.  He developed a plan to get even with all who have questioned his officiating talent and honesty and to focus much needed attention on the exploitation by and corruption of the sport he once loved. Stan made the life-altering decision to apply his officiating skills to influencing the outcome of games without anyone knowing.  A close, yet bogus charging call here, an uncalled traveling call there might affect the point spread enough for him to win some bets. The successful execution of the plan would make him rich. And hopefully promote some much needed reform of college athletics.

    There are more twists and turns, fakes and fast breaks than in the Final Four. Mr. Wolfe presents a no-holds barred examination of the good, bad and ugly about college basketball. Frankly, it’s downright scary.  Initial reviewers agree it’s an engrossing, worthwhile read addressing a topic that needs a thorough examination. If you love college sports, especially basketball, and if you love a lightning fast, cliffhanging story, How to Rig the NCAA Basketball Championship for Fun and Profit is for you.

    James Wolfe, is an engineer, entrepreneur, sports fanatic, and author of seven books of fiction and nonfiction including the bestselling novel Little Balls Big Dreams.