UK basketball notebook: Is Kentucky's schedule driven by tradition or cash?

Herald-Leader Staff WriterMay 5, 2012 

jerry tipton

Jerry Tipton

Last week brought the news that Kentucky's storied rivalries with Indiana and North Carolina will not continue next season. Doesn't tradition count for anything?

ESPN analyst Jay Bilas doesn't think so.

"Well, in a landscape that hasn't been paying a whole lot of attention to tradition lately, it's more about money," he said. "I don't know if that question is relevant anymore."

So UK-IU and UK-UNC pass into history as did Texas-Texas A&M and Kansas-Missouri.

But there's always the hope that self-interest and the TV masters will bring back those games.

"They'll play again," Bilas said of the Kentucky-Indiana game, which has been a part of college basketball every season since 1969-70. "This is a minor, short-term thing. Kentucky and Indiana will play again. ... They'll play again when it's in their interest to play again."

For now, Kentucky and Indiana simply don't need each other, Bilas said. UK is coming off a national championship. Indiana might be pre-season No. 1.

"Somebody's going to come back to them with more money, and they'll play," Bilas said. "When the money's right, they'll play."

That kind of cynicism — usually the province of sportswriters — rules these days. In a statement, Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said money was not a factor in UK wanting the series with Indiana returned to neutral sites. Yes, neutral sites would mean more revenue over each two-year period, especially if Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis is involved.

But UK insisted on neutral sites because Coach John Calipari just doesn't want to play at Indiana again, Barnhart said.

That's puzzling. Perhaps Calipari will explain today when he plans to share scheduling thoughts via his Web site.

Surely, Calipari won't note the need for additional revenue through home games. The Southeastern Conference paid a record $220 million to its 12 member schools last spring. The league's financial windfall has increased every year since 1988-89.

"They make enough money," ESPN analyst Dick Vitale said of college basketball programs in general. "Everything has to come down to dollars, dollars, dollars. Tell Mitch I don't want to hear it. I don't buy it. ... They're not going to starve."

Bilas suggested that tradition, as captured by Kentucky-Indiana, makes financial sense in the long term whatever the sites.

"We've got a sport that's become a one-month sport," he said of the emphasis on March Madness. "We need more of this Indiana-Kentucky stuff. Not less."

Student welfare

Vitale lamented the end of the Kentucky-Indiana series. Either continuing at neutral sites (as UK desired) or on a home-and-home basis (as IU favored) would have been OK with Vitale.

"But I think the alternative of the college campus is a healthy forum," he said. "Allowing students to be part of it. Last year's game (in Bloomington) was the Game of the Year. An incredible game in the emotion."

Scaredy Cat?

Vitale dismissed the notion that a fear of losing played a role in Calipari wanting to avoid playing at Indiana in future seasons.

"John's not afraid of anything," Vitale said.

Maybe not. But columnist Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe remains unconvinced.

During an appearance Friday on ESPN's Pardon the Interruption, Ryan suggested Calipari was a scaredy Cat.

"Even though I'm a Coach Cal guy," Ryan said, " ... I think he's running from Indiana."

When defending his courage in the past, Calipari has noted how his Memphis teams played ambitious schedules. Of course, a relatively weak Conference USA necessitated a strong non-conference schedule for Memphis. At Kentucky, a coach has greater freedom to play some opponents and avoid others.

"Coach Cal looks petty here," Ryan said of the UK-IU series ending. "I'm putting it on him. He should be above this."

'Great competition'

Joe B. Hall noted how games against Indiana marked significant moments in his 13 seasons as UK coach.

"It was great competition," said Hall, who had an 8-8 record against then IU Coach Bob Knight. "It couldn't have been a better scenario for a rivalry. It seemed to intensify with every game. ... When Bobby was there, every game was just an epic. You couldn't repeat that anyplace else."

Of course, a high moment for Kentucky came in the 92-90 victory over Indiana in the 1975 NCAA Tournament. That avenged a 24-point regular-season beatdown at Indiana and marked the Hoosiers' only defeat in a two-year period.

"I think it lost that (intensity) for a few years, and it just became another social game," Hall said of more recent games in the rivalry. " ... I think with (Tom) Crean, it was coming back."

Hall expressed complete confidence in Calipari's decision-making in steering Kentucky basketball into the future.

But Hall said of the UK-IU series, "I personally hate to see it end."

'Owe fans?'

Larry Gallo, a Senior Associate Athletic Director at North Carolina, said that UNC wanted to continue its series with Kentucky. He noted a scheduling conflict as a reason there will not be a UK-UNC game in the 2012-13 season.

UNC saw Dec. 1 as the date to play Kentucky, he said. UK might have a commitment to play in the SEC-Big East competition that day.

Gallo expressed the hope that UK-UNC would be taking only a "one-year hiatus" and then resuming in 2013-14.

When asked what he thought about UK-UNC continuing at neutral sites, Gallo did not sound enthusiastic.

"We don't like to make a habit of taking home games away from Chapel Hill," he said. "We feel we owe it to our fans."

A game against Kentucky would be even more difficult to move. "A marquee game like that is one we'd want our fans to have the most access to," Gallo said.

'Big people'

Former UK All-American Kevin Grevey found it hard to believe that a series with Indiana will end because the schools couldn't agree on the sites for future games.

"A real sign of good negotiators and big people is to find a real solution to a problem," he said. "They didn't find a solution. They just ended it."

Irony

In a statement, Barnhart suggested that Indiana acted unilaterally in ending the series with Kentucky.

A touch of irony there. Last year Indiana and North Carolina may have felt like less than full partners when Calipari asked fans to vote on whether to end the series with either Indiana, Louisville or North Carolina.

"The good thing is, we get to vote, too," UNC Coach Roy Williams said before the Tar Heels played at Kentucky last season. "They're not the only one that gets to say yes or no."

Succe$$

On Friday, UK announced an 8.3 percent pay increase for Calipari. The increase will come from compensation generated by media rights and endorsements in the remaining seven years of the contract, UK said.

That marked the second straight year that UK enhanced Calipari's contract, and the ninth time since 2001 that he's received either a pay raise, a contract extension or both. Success breeds succe$$.

Here's the timeline:

2000: Memphis hires Calipari and gives him a five-year deal with an annual salary of $550,000.

March 2001: Memphis announces an 82-percent pay raise. Calipari's annual salary becomes $1 million.

March 2002: New five-year deal with annual salary remaining $1 million.

Dec. 2003: Three-year contract extension. Base raised to $1,150,000. Bonuses can make it $1.5 million per year.

March 2006: One year extension, plus base raised to $1.3 million (bonuses can make it $1.7 million). Memphis changes shoe deal and money goes entirely to Calipari. Before it was a 50/50 split.

March 2007: One-year extension. Base raised to $1,816,000.

April 2008: New five-year deal. Base raised to $2,350,000. New donor-funded longevity bonus totals $5 million if Calipari stays through 2012-13.

March 2009: UK hires Calipari to reported deal worth $31,650,000 plus incentives over eight years.

June 2011: UK rewards Calipari with new eight-year contract. Compensation in excess of $5 million per year. New deal maxes out at $5.75 million in 2018-19.

Friday: 8.3 percent pay increase from media rights and endorsements over remaining seven years. Calipari to receive retention bonus of $1 million on July 31, 2015.

'Midas touch'

Reader Ron Bailey noted how UK's appearance at the White House on Friday had a same old-same old quality for one player.

"It seems that Darius Miller has the Midas touch when it pertains to the office of the President of the United States," Bailey wrote in an email. "... In 2008 when Darius and his Mason County Royals won the state, former President Bill Clinton came to the Mason County Fieldhouse to campaign for Hillary, and he greeted Darius and introduced the entire team.

"That same month in 2008, Darius was part of the world premiere of George Clooney's movie Leatherheads in Maysville as he again was a special guest.

"Present Presidents and former Presidents shake hands and congratulate Darius every four years. That means in 2016 Darius will join his NBA team in the White House to shake hands with the current President."

Bailey, 59, lives in Maysville. He writes a blog and sports columns for the Ledger-Independent.

First-rate pitch

On the plus side, Calipari showed good form when he threw out the first pitch before the Cincinnati Reds' game recently.

"His form was perfect," Reds' Hall of Fame play-by-play man Marty Brennaman said. "It looked like big-league mechanics.

"If they bounce it or throw one to the screen or look like a woman, they're going to incur my wrath on the radio. I'm going to verbally beat you up. Not only did he throw the ball to the plate, he threw it with something on it."

Congratulations

To former UK star Anthony Davis. Last week, he and James Harden of the Oklahoma City Thunder were named to the pool of players who will try out for the U.S. team participating in the Summer Olympics.

USA Basketball added Davis and Harden after four other players were lost to injury: Derrick Rose, Dwight Howard, Chauncey Billips and LaMarcus Aldridge.

ESPN reported that USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo also considered adding Greg Monroe of the Detroit Pistons and the former UK star DeMarcus Cousins of the Sacramento Kings.

Davis and Harden give the U.S. team 18 players. The roster must be cut to 12 for the London Olympics.

The U.S. team begins training with a July 6-12 camp in Las Vegas.

Happy birthday

To Larry Steele. He turned 63 Saturday. ... To Jarrod Polson. He turns 21 on Tuesday. ... To Jon Hood. He turns 21 on Wednesday. ... To Michael Porter. He turns 25 on Thursday. ... To Heshimu Evans. He turns 37 on Tuesday. ... To Anthony Epps. He turned 37 on Friday. ... To J.P. Blevins. He turns 33 on Tuesday.

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Email: jtipton@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @JerryTipton.Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com

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