UK basketball notebook: Academics and the mission of the SEC Network

Herald-Leader Staff WriterMay 4, 2013 

Former UK great Jamal Mashburn was named an SEC Legend in a presentation by commissioner Mike Slive, right, March 15 in Nashville. Mashburn will receive an honorary doctorate of humanities at UK today.

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While David Ridpath taught at Mississippi State, the school announced a costly upgrade to its athletic facilities. This angered the faculty.

To appease the professors, then-athletics director Larry Templeton pledged a $100,000 donation to academics.

Hush money?

"Exactly what I called it," Ridpath said last week.

Which brings us to Thursday's formal unveiling of a new deal between the Southeastern Conference and ESPN. SEC Commissioner Mike Slive and ESPN bigwigs announced a 20-year deal that runs through 2034. The promise of SEC sports on television "24/7" filled the air.

SEC and ESPN officials offered much detail about the greater opportunities available on this SEC Network: 1,000 live events the first year, 45 football games per year, more than 100 men's basketball games per year, 60 women's basketball games and 250 Olympic sports games. More than 450 games would be televised live, and an additional 550 distributed digitally.

Ridpath, the president-elect of The Drake Group (which tries to remind athletic officials of their schools' academic mission) saw the SEC Network as part of the ongoing arms race. The Big Ten Network begat the Pacific 10 Network which now begets the SEC Network.

"I don't see a massive benefit for academics and universities," said Ridpath, an assistant professor of sports management at Ohio University.

In contrast to the trumpeting of more and more televised events, the SEC and ESPN were vague about how the new deal will help in educating students.

A list of "frequently-asked-questions" released by the SEC and ESPN included this:

16. Will there be academic programming?

We have 16 months between now and the launch. We will continue to build out the full scope of the Network which will include content beyond live events. The Content Board will continue to build out the programming schedule for the Network and its digital extensions.

Ridpath took a wait-and-see attitude.

"I'd just say I'm skeptical," he said. "It could be more of a facade."

Time will tell.

Ridpath, who once coached a college wrestling team, welcomed the chance to watch more so-called Olympic sports. He said he regularly views wrestling on the Big Ten Network.

"On the flip side, maybe now Olympic sports move further from the academic mission," he said.

Earlier this year, Ridpath voiced support for big-time college athletics dropping the pretense and divorcing itself from the ideal of a true student-athlete. Let players take classes, if they so choose. Or not.

Another interesting detail absent from the SEC-ESPN announcement was the value of the deal. How much more money will the SEC realize?

David Climer, a columnist with The Tennessean, wrote that the SEC Network will produce "around $400 million" annually — or about $28.5 million per conference school.

"And that doesn't count other cash cows such as the SEC championship game, conference tournaments and bowl payouts," he wrote.

Said Ridpath: "A lot of money. Where does that money go?"

Dwight Anderson leftovers

Leftovers from an interview with former UK star freshman Dwight Anderson:

■ Contrary to common perception, he said his transfer to Southern Cal had nothing to do with a supposed conflict with then coach Joe B. Hall. "Joe B. Hall made me so much stronger in my ability," he said. "And sure about it."

Hall wanted Anderson to create rather than robotically follow a prescribed form.

"Be an 'X' factor," Anderson said. "Go wherever you want, and Kyle (Macy) will find you. We ran no plays (for Anderson)."

■ Before so-called one-and-done players became the norm, Anderson considered such a course. Ultimately, he entered the NBA Draft after his junior season.

"I had people around me who didn't have a clue," he said.

Anderson said he considered going from high school to the NBA. A blizzard prevented the 76ers from scouting one of his high school games, so he (reluctantly?) chose Kentucky over Michigan as a college destination.

■ He blamed the lifestyle of Southern California for his drug use. His off-court playmates were Lakers Norm Nixon and Michael Cooper, plus actress Debbie Allen, he said.

"I was introduced to cocaine by NBA players," he said. "I'll leave it at that."

■ When asked why Len Bias' fatal overdose in 1986 did not persuade him to stop taking drugs, Anderson noted the "fog" that envelops users. "You don't come out of that fog," he said. "(Bias) got a bad batch. That's what addicts say."

■ He preferred free basing cocaine and triple shots of cognac. "I don't know how my stomach took it," he said.

■ A question about whether UK players got under-the-table money evoked a hearty laugh.

"Whew!" he said. "I'm going to leave that out. I don't want to rub no rhubarbs on that."

Palm reading

After UK announced its 2013-14 nonconference schedule last week, Jerry Palm of CBSSports.com offered his reaction.

"It's a pretty representative schedule," he wrote in an email. "Boise State is coming off a tournament appearance. Belmont is usually pretty good for its level. Louisville will be a Final Four contender again. The away games are quite good. I feel bad for Robert Morris. They could lose by 100. Lol."

When asked about a freshman-oriented team playing a schedule that includes Michigan State, Louisville, North Carolina, Baylor and Providence, Palm wrote:

"I don't think it's too much for a freshman-oriented team when you have freshmen the quality of the ones UK will have."

Congrats

Jamal Mashburn, arguably the most influential UK player in the last 30 years, will receive an honorary doctorate of humanities during Sunday's commencement ceremonies.

Mashburn came to UK in 1990 despite NCAA penalties that meant no post-season play (not even the SEC Tournament) until 1992. He became the foundation piece for a remarkably fast revival orchestrated by then-coach Rick Pitino.

After leading UK to the 1993 Final Four, Mashburn played 12 seasons in the NBA. He also became a success in business, gaining ownership interest in restaurants, car dealerships, real estate, hospitality services and Thoroughbred horses.

Mashburn donated $500,000 from his first NBA contract to endow an academic scholarship fund.

In a statement earlier this year, UK noted that an honorary degree pays tribute to those whose lives and work exemplify professional, intellectual or artistic achievement, and who have made significant contributions to society, the state and/or UK.

Others receiving honorary doctorate degrees Sunday are Deborah Hersman, chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, and Robert Milton Huffaker, a native of Wayne County, whose work in physics includes a 15-year stint at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center.

Memorable games

One of the Herald-Leader's sports columnists, Mark Story, wrote last week about what he called the seven "most anticipated games" in Rupp Arena history. Those games included Kyle Macy's Senior Day in 1980 and the thirst for revenge against Kansas in 1990 (Kansas had the temerity to beat UK by 55 points the season before). Story topped his list with next season's Kentucky-Louisville game.

Here, in chronological order, is the other end of the spectrum: seven UK home games in the last 30 years that made a lasting impact:

■ UK 100, LSU 95. Feb. 15, 1990. The phenomenon that was Pitino's Bombinos reached its zenith in this game. That season's David-versus-Goliath vibe created something new to UK basketball: pure joy. This feeling became, well, unforgettable when UK beat a LSU team that included Shaquille O'Neal, Chris Jackson, Stanley Roberts and the under-rated Vernel Singleton.

■ Pittsburgh 85, UK 67. Nov. 22, 1991. Anybody need two tickets to see Cats on Broadway? Pittsburgh ruined Rick Pitino's plans for a triumphant return to New York City by beating the Cats in the Pre-Season NIT second round. Future UK assistant coach Orlando Antigua had nine points and eight rebounds for Pitt.

■ Arkansas 105, UK 88. Jan. 25, 1992. In its first game at Kentucky as an SEC team, Arkan-came, Arkan-saw, Arkan-conquered. The Hogs reflected Coach Nolan Richardson's steely intent not to praise the SEC Caesar but to bury him. Arkansas won the SEC regular-season title by one game over Kentucky.

■ UK 101, Tennessee 40. March 12, 1993. UK did not merely beat the dreaded Vols in the SEC Tournament. UK did more than avenge a fluky one-point loss in Knoxville barely two weeks earlier. UK humiliated Tennessee. As part of the avert-your-eyes action, UT star Allan Houston made one of 15 shots.

■ UK 93, Villanova 56. Feb. 9, 1997. Rupp Arena has probably been louder at times, but not often. At No. 16, Villanova was UK's highest-rated opponent in the final two months of the regular season. Perhaps, UK fans expelled pent-up emotion. Future Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt, then a Villanova assistant, came away a believer in the pressing, trapping style.

■ UK 79, North Carolina 59. Dec. 8, 2001. Tayshaun Prince made five three-point shots on five straight possessions. The fifth shot, which came near the mid-court logo, led media and UK staffers to get out a tape measure.

■ UK 70, Florida 55. Feb. 4, 2003. A day or two before the game, Florida became No. 1 in The Associated Press poll for the first time. Then Kentucky horsewhipped the Gators, who scored only six baskets in the first half. A record crowd (24,459) roared its approval as UK built its lead to as much as 29 points.

True confessions

Jason Collins made news last week when he used Sports Illustrated to announce that he was gay. Or as he began a first-person story: "I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm black. And I'm gay."

Thus Collins became the first athlete in one of the country's four major team sports to acknowledge he was gay.

Stephen Colbert took a comedic take on the announcement. "He came out as black and gay," he said on his television program, The Colbert Report. "Even more shocking, he came out as a player for the Washington Wizards. You've got to wonder how his parents took it."

Gala correction

A note last week had the wrong date for this year's Dick Vitale Gala.

This year's event will be held May 17 at the Ritz-Carlton in Sarasota, Fla. Dick Vitale stages the event as part of his work for The V Foundation for Cancer Research, which is named after the late coach Jim Valvano.

More information is available at www.jimmvy.org/vitale or by contacting Danielle Smith at dsmith@jimmyv.org.

Happy birthday

To Jarrod Polson. He turns 22 on Wednesday. ... To Heshimu Evans. He turns 38 on Wednesday. ... To Anthony Epps. He turned 38 on Derby Day. ... To Larry Steele. He turns 64 Sunday. ... To J.P. Blevins. He turns 34 on Wednesday.

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

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