The big debate surrounding Kentucky basketball this spring had been whether to renovate Rupp Arena or build a new homecourt in downtown Lexington. A more fundamental question resurfaced last week that dwarfed the arena chatter and cut to the heart of why UK exists. To entertain us with sports teams? Or educate our children?
Of course, UK can do both. But at a time of dwindling financial resources, which quest is more important?
Joe Peek, the faculty representative on UK's Board of Trustees, and his predecessor in that position, Ernie Yanarella, have called for the school to change course and make academics the top priority.
"The key is that I am not anti-athletics, and I believe that is the case for the faculty, in general, as well," Peek wrote in an email last week. "We are pro-education. As such, many faculty are quite disappointed that the priorities at UK are so screwed up.
"And the fact that UK continues to slide in university rankings is of great concern to the faculty, yet is waved off by the UK administration with (sometimes bizarre) rationalizations."
Peek likened the clamoring of fans for a Final Four appearance to a drug addict needing a fix.
"The future of Kentucky is tied to enhancing the educational attainment of its citizens, not making the Final Four," he wrote before adding, "although, like satisfying a drug addiction, making the Final Four can make people feel good for a little while until they crash back to the reality of living in a state that typically is ranked 47th, 48th, or 49th in most meaningful statistics.
"We need to be focused on raising the standard of living and the quality of life for the citizens of Kentucky."
Yanarella recently called for the UK Athletics Association to greatly increase its annual $1.7 million donation to the school and, if necessary, reduce the number of teams it sponsors.
Coincidentally, last week UK Athletics posted a defense of its generosity to the school. The post noted that in addition to giving the school $1.7 million each year, UK Athletics also paid for the players' scholarships and shared royalties from the sales of memorabilia.
To borrow a basketball term, Peek called this a spin move: an attempt to re-interpret.
"It is still the case that UKAA contributes (as in donates) very little of their revenues to UK," Peek wrote. "However, they do make much larger internal transfers to UK, but that is as payment for services provided by UK to UKAA, such as tuition for athletes. So I do not see how fees for service can be counted as a contribution.
"Apparently, I am a major 'contributor' to Kroger's, Walgreen's, BP, and any number of other entities, insofar as I have 'given back' my hard earned cash to them."
Peek acknowledged that there's room for athletics as well as academics at UK.
"Let's recognize that the benefits go in both directions," he wrote, "but that the primary mission of a university is supposed to be education, not entertainment. Let's see if we can build a university that can make the basketball team proud."
Knight on Knight
Hall of Fame Coach Bob Knight painted with a broad brush when he made a blanket statement about so-called one-and-done players not attending class in the spring semester.
One possible one-and-done player, Brandon Knight, came to UK with a noted 4.3 high school grade-point average. His mother did not appreciate the ex-coach stereotyping players.
"I am offended by anybody who stereotypes groups of people," Tonya Knight said. "That person is a very dangerous person."
Tonya Knight acknowledged that the one-and-done player engenders strong feelings. She said critics should direct their fire at rulemakers who make it possible for someone to maintain eligibility for one semester before turning pro, not at players who take advantage of the rules.
"People should have the right, provided they are guided by the rules and guidelines, to do whatever they want with their lives without people judging them," she said.
Several emailers objected to the word "apology" as a description of Bob Knight's explanation of remarks about one-and-done players earlier this spring. In criticizing so-called one-and-done players, he mistakenly said none of UK's starters in the 2010 NCAA Tournament attended a class in the spring semester.
When this was quickly and easily shown to be false, Knight issued a statement through ESPN that read: "My overall point is that 'one and dones' are not healthy for college basketball. I should not have made it personal to Kentucky and its players, and I apologize."
Michael T. Palermo, an attorney in Lexington, wrote to say, "In fact, there was no retraction or apology at all, even though Knight used that word.
"If I call you a child molester, then follow up by saying, 'Sorry, I shouldn't have singled anyone out. I was referring to perverts in general,' would you view that as an apology?
"Of course not. Such a comment, like Knight's 'apology,' is actually an affirmation of the original slander."
Palermo suggested the UK players consider legal action.
"Of course, they'd probably prefer to let the matter drop," he wrote, "but I'd at least demand a real retraction."
Palermo, 59, was born in Brooklyn, came to Kentucky in the 1970s and graduated from UK Law School in 1984.
"I just think a big, nasty guy has gotten one pass too many," he wrote of Knight.
Reader Mike Stratford sent an email expressing his misgivings about UK basketball's reliance on so called one-and-done players.
After noting that DeAndre Liggins, Brandon Knight nor Terrence Jones had hired an agent, thus keeping alive the option of returning to UK, Stratford saw freshman-oriented teams at a disadvantage.
"I see a philosophical difference between coaches Cal (John Calipari) and others such as (Jim) Calhoun, (Roy) Williams and Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski)," he wrote, "which should concern UK fans because team championships will NEVER be the ultimate goal as long as Cal's around. ...
"Coach Cal aggressively recruits players with the promise of 'one year here and then to the pros' while the others really leave it up to the players. In Cal's system, the annual recruitment heist works because of this. Who wants to come and compete to play each game against another bunch of all-stars? There's only space for five on the floor at a time.
"Cal's way, there's an almost guaranteed 'revolving door,' which means there's going to be starter vacancies every season. As long as no other coach employs this so blatantly, it ensures Cal the annual pick of the recruitment litter in terms of raw athleticism (and assuming players want to get into the NBA on the shortest path possible.) What is sacrificed is team cohesiveness, player maturity, NCAA championships??? (remember, that's a team thing.) And that other marginal commodity we refer to as 'education.'"
Stratford is a North Carolina native and UNC graduate. "At least not Duke," he wrote.
He and his wife, Linda, have enjoyed living in the Lexington area for 11 years. "You could call me a UK fan by adoption," he wrote. "Only once a year do I root for another team."
Stratford worked for two years at UK's College of Pharmacy and Center for Pharmaceutical Science and Technology. He now works as a fund-raiser with Christian Appalachian Project in Lexington. Linda is the associate professor for Art History at Asbury University.
In noting how it led the Big 12 Conference in home attendance for a 25th consecutive season, Kansas sent this nugget:
Since 1986-87, every four-year senior for Kansas has won at least 100 games in his career.
Senior Tyrel Reed, who completed a four-year career this spring, was on Kansas teams that compiled a record of 132-17, That tied for the second-best four-year victory total in NCAA Division I history.
The best four-year records belong to:
Duke (133-15) 1998-01
Kansas (132-17) 2008-11
Duke (132-15) 1999-02
Kentucky (132-16) 1995-98
Kentucky (132-20) 1996-99
Kansas (130-19) 2007-10
Kentucky (130-10) 1946-49
UNLV (129-21) 1987-90
Gone, not forgotten
Former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl was scheduled to return to Thompson-Boling Arena on Saturday to participate in a fund-raiser to benefit the Cancer Institute at the UT Medical Center. Pearl and his wife, Brandy, were co-chairs of the event.
"I love Tennessee, and I love the university," Pearl told the Knoxville News Sentinel's Carly Harrington. "I'm just not the basketball coach anymore. This is something Brandy has been working on all year. The thought never crossed our minds not being part of it."
Jim Ragonese, a spokesman for the UT Medical Center, said organizers hope to set a record for Knoxville by raising $1 million in one night. More than 700 people were expected to attend with 500 more or so participating as volunteer performers.
Donations can be made through the Web sites utmcfansofhope.org or firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (865) 305-6611.
UK basketball's improved team grade-point average for the fall semester of 2010, which was noted last Sunday, did not impress reader Jeffrey McBride.
"Looking good in the SEC in GPA is not really much of an accomplishment," he wrote in an email. "Being 15th out of 20 teams at UK is nothing special."
If Brandon Knight and Jarrod Polson achieved 4.0 GPAs, the team GPA of 2.824 meant that the other eight players averaged a 2.53, McBride wrote.
Even so, a 2.53 would be a step forward from the 2.018 and 2.225 of the 2009-10 academic year.
McBride, 58, was born and raised in Kalamazoo, Mich. He came to Kentucky in 1970 to attend Centre College, where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa with degrees in Economics and Applied Mathematics. He later received an MBA degree from Bellarmine University.
Now living in Georgetown, McBride works as a Production Team Member at Toyota.
Two teams too much?
As John Calipari presumably considers whether to guide the Dominican Republic national team this summer, he doesn't have a lot of people to ask what it's like to coach a foreign team and a major college program.
One such person is Nolan Richardson, who coached the national teams of Panama and then Mexico after being dismissed as Arkansas coach. Richardson, who famously called dealing with expectations of a big-time program "feeding the monster," said taking on another coaching job simultaneously would be difficult.
"I don't know if I would have if I had been at Arkansas," he said Friday. "I was too preoccupied with trying to feed the monster.
"I wasn't coaching. It gave me a chance to go back and do something. ... Coaching is one of those things that gets inside the blood."
Coal Big Blue
UK Coach John Calipari spent Friday touring Eastern Kentucky coal mines. He tweeted about touring Excel Mine in Martin County "w/ my guys, Joe Craft, Tom Wynne & a crew from Alliance Coal."
Lexington television station WKYT did a story on the tour.
"I get a feel for what my relatives did during their time in the mines," Calipari tweeted. "You want to talk about salt-of-the-earth folks? These are them."
Calipari's tour was Craft's way of making good on a deal he made with miners. If the miners had 400 consecutive days without time lost to accident, Craft would bring Calipari to the operation.
Of course, Craft's seven-figure donation enabled UK to build a new practice facility. He also played a role in the controversial plan to build new living quarters for the team: Wildcat Coal Lodge.
To former UK player Jim Dinwiddie. He turns 63 today.
A longtime attorney in Leitchfield, Dinwiddie has reason to believe he'll live a long life. A grandfather, Joe Dinwiddie, lived to 101. "Farmed hard till 85," Dinwiddie said. "At 93, he wrote a book on China."
Dinwiddie lettered for UK in 1968-69, 1969-70 and 1970-71.
Jerry Tipton covers UK basketball for the Herald-Leader. This article contains his opinions and observations. Reach him at email@example.com.