Notebook

Jerry Tipton: NCAA, UK still at odds over Cal's 500th

Herald-Leader Staff WriterJune 12, 2011 

Kentucky coach coach John Calipari reacts during second half action as Kentucky played Connecticut in the second game of the men's NCAA Final Four semifinal basketball game Saturday April 2, 2011 in Houston. Photo by David Perry | Staff

DAVID PERRY | STAFF

Earlier this month, the chairman of the NCAA's Committee on Infractions sent University of Kentucky President Lee T. Todd Jr. a letter asking the school to publicly acknowledge it was wrong to recognize John Calipari's 500th coaching victory this past season. Chairman Dennis E. Thomas, the commissioner of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, also told Todd that the wording of UK's statement "must be approved by the office of the Committee on Infractions prior to its release."

Thomas asked UK to respond to the letter no later than next Friday.

Spokesman Jay Blanton said Saturday that UK did not have a comment.

The letter marked the latest twist in a debate between UK and the NCAA about whether Calipari achieved his 500th coaching victory when Kentucky beat Florida in Rupp Arena on Feb. 26. When the game ended, UK presented Calipari with a game ball to recognize the supposed milestone. But questions immediately arose about whether the vacated victories at the universities of Massachusetts and Memphis earlier in Calipari's career should be subtracted from his total.

According to NCAA official statistics, the answer is yes. Calipari's victory total reached 458 that day and he finished the season with 467. That reflects the four NCAA Tournament victories his UMass team vacated in 1996 because star Marcus Camby received improper benefits from an agent and the 38 victories his Memphis team vacated in the 2007-08 season because star Derrick Rose was ineligible. A testing service invalidated his qualifying entrance exam score.

More than once in his five-page letter, Thomas wrote of how UK's handling of Calipari's victory total was "troubling," "extremely troubling" and "very troubling" to the Committee on Infractions.

If UK did not agree, Thomas said school officials would be asked to make an in-person appearance before the committee.

An early February email sent to the NCAA sparked the debate about Calipari's victory total. The email — sent by what UK senior associate athletics director Sandy Bell termed "a fan of a rival program" — said Kentucky was mistakenly counting the vacated victories on its Web site and media guide. The NCAA told Bell of the complaint on Feb. 4.

In her same-day response to the NCAA, Bell said she alerted DeWayne Peevy, UK's associate athletics director for media relations. Bell later told the NCAA that Peevy asked the NCAA on March 2 if UK needed to subtract the 42 victories from Calipari's total or merely note them.

Bell wrote Todd on April 5 that the response from Gary Johnson, the person who heads men's basketball statistics for the NCAA, was: "You can say he has 1,000 wins if you want. But if you want to agree with what his official record is, then you have to account for those vacates."

Bell said UK interpreted that to mean it could recognize 500 or more victories as long as it "accounted" for the vacates.

Thomas disagreed. "Recognizing Mr. Calipari for a fictitious 500th win does not properly 'account' for the vacation of wins," he wrote Todd.

According to Thomas' letter, Peevy again checked with the NCAA about whether beating Florida marked Calipari's 500th victory at 5:52 p.m. the day of the game. Thomas wrote that the timing was "troubling" because it was "just minutes before the Florida game concluded. ...

"Clarification of Mr. Calipari's record should have been sought long before ... "

The NCAA first asked UK to explain its handling of Calipari's record in a letter dated March 15.

Bell responded in the April 5 letter to Todd. While saying "our media guide will be corrected next year," Bell wrote Todd that the athletics department felt its recognizing Calipari's 500th victory was correct.

"Our only intention was to recognize the fact that, during his career, Coach John Calipari had indeed led his teams to 500 victories on the court," Bell wrote Todd on April 5. "Regardless of how the 42 victories are statistically noted, they did in fact occur."

Thomas rejected that logic, writing to Todd, "Ms. Bell seemingly ignores the fact that these wins were gained with the use of ineligible student-athletes." He also noted that "both cases involved violations of well-known, fundamental NCAA legislation."

That Bell "dismissed the vacation of wins as a 'statistical note' is extremely troubling to the committee," Thomas wrote.

In her April 5 letter to Todd, Bell said that Calipari had expressed concern that he was being "singled out" by the NCAA. She wrote that the NCAA had vacated almost 60 tournament victories. Yet, she added, more than half were not labeled as vacated in school publications.

Thomas responded by writing that the Committee on Infractions does not have the manpower to monitor how every school handles every vacated victory. But the committee would seek compliance when it learns of non-compliance.

"The committee rejects out of hand any notion that it selectively punishes individuals or certain institutions, for that matter," Thomas wrote. "For a veteran administrator (Bell) at a major Division I institution to agree with a coach that he is somehow being 'picked on' by the Association is ... very troubling to the committee."

Life after basketball

Last week, NBC won the rights to televise the Olympics through 2020. That figures to keep Lexington native Tom Hammond at center stage for arguably the grandest international athletic competitions.

Hammond, who worked the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, continues to prove there is life after basketball. He had done television play-by-play for the Southeastern Conference network for 30 years before ESPN won the rights beginning in 2009-10.

Although he's busy with working the Olympics, Triple Crown horse racing and Notre Dame football, Hammond acknowledged the sting of no longer calling SEC basketball.

"I miss it, of course," he said. "I miss the games. I don't do any basketball. I miss the camaraderie. There's been a void in my life."

For many years, Hammond called SEC basketball with Joe "String Music" Dean. When Dean became athletic director at LSU, Hammond teamed with former Rupp Rupp Larry Conley on the SEC telecasts.

"I work so many things with NBA," Hammond said of his still active professional career. "It's not like I'm growing moss or anything."

Yet, as he said, he feels a void where SEC basketball used to be.

"I never grew tired of it," he said. "I never said, 'How much longer can I do it?'"

NBC's winning bid of $4.38 billion secured the rights to televise the summer and winter Olympics from 2014 through 2020. If custom holds, Hammond will call the signature events of track and field (summer) and figure skating (winter).

Hammond called NBC's winning bid a "great morale booster" for the network. This year's departure of guiding light Dick Ebersol and new ownership (Comcast) heightened anxiety. Hammond acknowledged doubts that NBC would remain the Olympic network.

Now, NBC is poised to offer more thorough Olympic coverage, in part, because it pledged to show events live. Comcast also owns Versus and the Golf Channel. With golf being introduced as an Olympic sport, Hammond saw coverage on the Golf Channel.

The Olympics would make Versus a more plausible competitor for ESPN.

Extension for Cal extension

Leftover notes from the Friday tweet that UK is working on a contract extension for John Calipari:

■ ESPN analyst Jay Bilas scoffed at the notion that a contract extension ensures Calipari will be UK coach long term. And to include an ever-higher buyout clause could be counter-productive.

"You may make it cost prohibitive for somebody to leave," Bilas said. "But you're making it less likely for people to stay."

A coach might feel squeezed by a big buyout.

■ Although Calipari's time as New Jersey Nets coach was not wildly successful, Bilas saw him as an attractive NBA coaching candidate.

Bilas cited the winning on a college level and the prior experience in the NBA.

"He's proven to be trusted by the players," Bilas said. "I think John would be valued as an NBA coach."

■ Another ESPN analyst, Dick Vitale, noted people skills, which he said were on display at the charity fund-raiser Vitale heads each spring. Calipari and North Carolina Coach Roy Williams were among this year's honorees.

"He was brilliant at our gala," Vitale said. " ... John's way with people is off the charts. He's a people guy."

Career choices

Former UK assistant Doug Barnes doesn't think much of the argument that a stellar incoming freshman class blunts any possibility of John Calipari leaving UK this off-season for, say, an NBA position.

"Fans think like that," Barnes said. "But you can't think like that. It's your life and your career."

Besides, Calipari has proven that he'll regularly bring in top recruiting classes to UK. If an incoming class holding great promise affected career choices, he'd never seriously consider another job.

Barnes recalled being a small college head coach in Arkansas and being offered an assistant's job by new Lamar coach Pat Foster, who had been an Eddie Sutton assistant at Arkansas. In talking to Foster about the job, Barnes pointed out that his small college team was poised to win its league.

To which, Foster said, "If you win (the league), who will know besides your players' parents and your parents?"

"It crushed me," Barnes said. "But he was so right."

Barnes chose to stay at the small college. Injuries prevented his team from winning its league.

Rhodes update

Former UK player Rodrick Rhodes interviewed for the head coaching job at Harlan High on Friday. Rhodes, who is an assistant coach at Texas-Pan American, did the interview via Sykpe.

Harlan Athletics Director Kevin Ball said he and a search committee had interviewed seven candidates for the position.

Rhodes, who told the Harlan Daily Enterprise that he wanted to get closer to a daughter living in Virginia, has also been mentioned as a possible candidate for the vacant head coaching position at Owsley County.

Ball first learned of Rhodes' interest in coaching a high school in Kentucky while checking an Internet site that lists job openings.

"I thought either this isn't the Rodrick Rhodes I know or this isn't the Owsley County I know," Ball said.

Ball left a message at Texas-Pan American. Within an hour, Rhodes called back to confirm his interest.

"A lot of people were surprised," Ball said of the reaction to Rhodes as a candidate. "Or they thought it's a joke. Or didn't think we'd been in contact or he was willing to be interviewed.

"It's really true."

The job at Harlan High drew what Ball called "early interest" from about 16 to 18 possible candidates, Ball said. The goal is to hire a new coach before June 25.

Happy birthday

To former UK big man Gimel Martinez. He turns 40 on Tuesday.

When asked to confirm the big 4-0, Martinez said, "Man, yeah. It doesn't hit you till you hear it. I'm hitting 40, but I still feel like I'm back in my 20s.

"Back in school, someone says they're 40, 'Wow, that's old.' I still feel like a young man. I still play."

Martinez, who plays in a 35-and-older league, admitted that he sometimes needs more time to recover from the physical stress of playing. But the league gives him a needed dose of competition. "That competitive will never leaves you," he said.

Martinez also coaches his sons, Gimmy, 13, and Myles, 10.

He works as a manufacturing rep and lives in central Ohio. That location put special significance in UK's game against No. 1 overall seed Ohio State in the 2011 NCAA Tournament. "I was really able to talk smack," he said.

Martinez also said he displayed a UK flag outside his home before and after the game.

Jerry Tipton covers UK basketball for the Herald-Leader. This article contains his opinions and observations. Reach him at jtipton@herald-leader.com.

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