While vouching for John Calipari's adherence to NCAA rules, former University of Kentucky athletics director C.M. Newton noted recently that the new UK basketball coach — like most of his colleagues — can drift into a "gray area" where compliance is open to interpretation.
"I've known John Calipari a long time," Newton said in a telephone interview. "He's like just basically all the other coaches. ... But I've never known him to break a rule."
When asked about Newton's comment, UK President Lee T. Todd Jr. recoiled from the suggestion of a gray area where a coach can fuzz over the limits of a rule.
"We don't want gray areas," Todd said after Tuesday's Board of Trustees meeting.
Todd said a series of NCAA violations by a UK coach will not be tolerated.
"With our outstanding compliance staff and the support of the SEC guidelines, the process should be pretty clear with regards to recruiting," Todd said. "If we have coaches that consistently ignore the guidance from our compliance staff and operate outside the rules, then they are not going to be here very long."
Todd suggested that Calipari's past — which includes two vacated Final Four appearances — will help block any impulse to cheat.
"The last thing Coach Calipari would want would be anything that gets him close to a gray area because he's already paid a price for things he doesn't feel he's done," Todd said. "So I don't think he ever wants that to happen again."
The NCAA did not name Calipari or hold him personally responsible for the vacated Final Fours — by Massachusetts in 1996 when star center Marcus Camby admitted taking money and gifts from an agent while playing for the Minutemen, and by Memphis in 2008 when the NCAA retroactively ruled star point guard Derrick Rose ineligible because the player had his score on an entrance exam invalidated.
UK discussed both cases with Calipari before hiring him as coach on March 31. "On a one-on-one basis, he convinced me he was a person I was willing to hire," Todd said.
Todd expressed faith in Calipari on a day that UK acknowledged punishing former basketball staffer Bilal Batley for committing a secondary violation of NCAA rules.
In response to an open-records request from the Herald-Leader, UK provided a letter dated Sept. 1 that said Batley violated an NCAA rule on July 2 when he "participated in countable athletically related activities with a student-athlete."
Batley, who followed Calipari from the University of Memphis, shagged rebounds for a current player. He also advised the player to shoot from particular spots on the floor, the UK letter said.
As men's basketball administrative assistant, Batley held a job that did not permit interaction with players on the court. He violated NCAA Bylaw 18.104.22.168.1 when he interacted on the court with a current player, the UK letter said.
Batley, who received what UK called a "letter of admonishment," resigned and returned to his native Houston because of an illness in the family, the school has said.
Earlier in his basketball career, Batley worked for three programs found guilty of major violations of NCAA rules while he worked there or the year before he arrived.
The three were Oklahoma as a student manager, Indiana and Memphis. Improper phone calls to prospects by Kelvin Sampson's staff brought punishments at Oklahoma and Indiana. Batley worked at Memphis in 2008-09, the season after Rose played while a cloud hovered over his SAT score.
"We do due diligence to check people out," Todd said of UK hiring Batley. "As we did with Calipari's situation."
The UK president voiced strong trust in the school's compliance department being able to keep coaches on the straight and narrow.
"I think we have one of the strongest compliance departments in the country," Todd said. "I don't worry about that."
In response to the open-records request, UK provided information on two other secondary violations involving the basketball program earlier in the year.
Tracy Webster, an assistant on former coach Billy Gillispie's staff, violated a rule by engaging in a conversation with a prospect before April 22, which was prior to the permissible contact date. He received a letter of admonishment.
Another violation occurred on May 26 when a current player — who UK officials acknowledged in June was Darius Miller — had his name used in an advertisement for The Reggie Warford Basketball Camp in Muhlenberg County. The player was unaware of the advertisement, the UK letter said.
UK self-reported the three secondary violations, which Todd saluted because it showed "at least you're paying attention to things that could get you in trouble."
With his two previous schools having to take down Final Four banners, Calipari knows about trouble. That knowledge had Todd thinking all will be well at Kentucky.
"I think, if he hangs a banner here, it will stay," the UK president said before correcting himself. "When he hangs a banner or banners here, it will stay."