John Clay: Gulf grows between UK, NCAA

Cats Fans' paranoia isn't far-fetched

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistJune 26, 2011 

John Clay

Conflict mediators have to get with it. Their toughest challenge awaits. Think the current NFL lockout is an ongoing stretch of acrimonious road? Think the gap between the NBA and its players' union is so wide it could wipe out an entire season? Child's play, we say.

Try resolving the current fractured relationship that is Kentucky vs. the NCAA.

You might have a better chance getting Charlie Sheen back on Two and a Half Men.

If the NCAA is a membership-driven institution, one of its members is crying foul while the home office claims to be following standard operating procedure. Meanwhile, nits are picked, fingers are pointed and fans are flamed.

The NCAA has never received high job-review marks in these parts. More than once, UK has felt probation's punch. When Lee Todd hopped aboard, the new president vowed Kentucky would not suffer a compliance collapse on his watch, and he made good on that promise.

That doesn't mean the road from Indianapolis to Lexington has been paved by love.

John Calipari's résumé already contained one "vacated" Final Four. No sooner had he signed on to rebuild the Kentucky basketball brand than the NCAA doubled that number. Derrick Rose's qualifying standardized test score was deemed invalid. Thus the NCAA ruled Memphis' 2008 Final Four appearance "vacated." Calipari wasn't implicated. Neither was Kentucky. A tone was set, however.

In 2010, Enes Kanter arrived in Lexington. Kanter was tall, talented and Turkish. He received money for playing on a professional team in his home country. The NCAA said too much money. Kentucky disagreed. Lines were drawn. Suddenly "Free Enes" stuck in the local lexicon. On signs. On T-shirts. On snapshots of UK fans brandishing "Free Enes" signs in front of NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis.

When the NCAA banished Kanter to student-assistant status, a backlash burst forth. It wasn't pretty. The fact that NCAA President Mark Emmert was previously the University of Washington's president and Kanter was previously a University of Washington recruit only added fuel to the conspiracy theories. Reportedly, death threats came Emmert's way.

At the Final Four in April, Emmert was quizzed on correspondence he received from Kentucky fans.

"I can't really quote them without having them bleeped out," said the president, who also used the term "repugnant."

Meanwhile, another spat was brewing. On Feb. 26, after Kentucky beat Florida in basketball, UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart presented John Calipari with a ball and a handshake on the occurrence of Calipari's 500th win.

The NCAA soon rained on UK's brief parade. Vacated victories are not acknowledged in career coaching totals. Ultimately, a brusque five-page letter from MEAC Commissioner Dennis Thomas, chair of the NCAA's Committee on Infractions, requested that UK either acknowledge its error or appear before the COI. A week later, Kentucky backed down.

The Big Blue Nation did not. Web-savvy UK faithful unearthed the embarrassing fact that three of Thomas' MEAC schools counted vacated victories of one form or another in their school media guides. In addition, David Teel, sports columnist for the Daily Press in Newport News, Va., discovered Hampton, where Thomas was athletics director for 12 years, also included vacated football victories in its media guide.

Thomas has declined to comment, reinforcing Big Blue belief the NCAA is singling out Calipari and has it out for Kentucky basketball, in general.

Paranoia? Probably. When it comes to powerful entities operating in a much-watched fishbowl, both are guilty as charged. Conflicts are unavoidable. Resolution is a sticky wicket.

In fact, step seven of Dr. Rhonda Sutton's Conflict Resolution guide says the two parties should "manage an impasse calmly, patiently and respectfully."

In the current climate, doesn't look like that will happen any time soon.

Reach John Clay at 859-231-3226 or 1-800-950-6397, ext. 3226, or jclay@herald-leader.com. Read his blog at Kentucky.com. Follow him on twitter @johnclayiv.

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