Last week saw the NCAA strip Louisville of its 2013 national championship and a Yahoo Sports story implicate Kentucky in the ongoing FBI investigation of college basketball corruption.
Shocking? Not really, said David Ridpath, the president of The Drake Group, which seeks to reform college athletics.
Reports of Rick Pitino helping arrange a six-figure payment so Brian Bowen will sign with Louisville? Of course such an arrangement is possible.
Reports of Sean Miller being aware of a six-figure payment so DeAndre Ayton will sign with Arizona? Business as usual.
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A report including UK among at least 20 Division I programs and more than 25 players involved in what Yahoo Sports called an “underground recruiting operation?” Shrug.
On Friday, UK Coach John Calipari declined comment on the Yahoo Sports report that implicated Kevin Knox, Bam Adebayo and Nerlens Noel. “I know nothing more than you guys know,” he told reporters.
Putting aside the particulars in the Yahoo Sports story, Ridpath was skeptical that any coach would be unaware of the ways of recruiting. “Everybody knew this was going on or at least had an idea of it,” he said.
When news broke last fall of the FBI investigating college basketball, NCAA President Mark Emmert called for the forming of a commission to study the sport and recommend possible reforms.
Ridpath, a professor of sports administration at Ohio University, is again skeptical.
“I don’t think a special commission chaired by Condi Rice or any rule changes is going to stop it because you’ve got a black market,” he said. “You know, supply and demand. How do you break a black market? Well, you’ve got to bring it out of the shadows.”
Ridpath advocates paying players over the table and letting them profit off their likeness.
The NCAA accepts a black market involving agents, shoe companies, players, players’ families and college programs because it benefits from it, Ridpath said. According to Investopedia.com, the 2016 NCAA Tournament generated a record $1 billion in revenue from media rights fees, ticket sales, corporate sponsorships and television ads. From a financial standpoint, nothing’s broken, so why try to fix it?
Ridpath termed the ongoing FBI investigation and expected NCAA action to follow as “pretty serious stuff.” He said players might lose eligibility or be held out of games and programs might receive sanctions from the NCAA.
But Ridpath said he does not expect teams barred from this year’s NCAA Tournament. “Can you imagine the uproar?” he said. “This is their main cash cow.” Plus, he added, “You’ve got CBS and Coca-Cola looking over this.”
Better to wait, give everyone time to adjust and make teams ineligible for the 2019 NCAA Tournament, he said.
Despite the FBI helping to pull back the curtain on college basketball’s black market, Ridpath remains a fan, albeit a sober-minded fan.
“I’m going to watch the games,” he said. “But I know what I’m watching. I’m not watching college athletics. I’m just watching it for entertainment.”
Where are safeguards?
Before the Yahoo Sports story broke, UK Director of Athletics Mitch Barnhart said he took comfort in the efforts of his department’s compliance office to keep Kentucky out of NCAA trouble.
Earlier in his career, David Ridpath was a compliance officer at Marshall and Weber State. He is familiar with the limited influence of compliance offices.
“I love Sandy (Bell) very much,” Ridpath said of the person who more or less founded UK’s compliance operation. “She’s a wonderful person.”
Then, Ridpath added, “There’s not a whole lot compliance people can do to stop this. Nor do people (in the recruiting world) really care about compliance people. I mean, anytime I tried to confront an agent, I was certainly rebuffed. And any time I tried to really enforce the rules that might tamp down competitive equity, I certainly was rebuffed there also. So there’s not a whole lot a compliance program can do.”
What about college presidents? How aware are they of college basketball’s black market? How willing are they to take action? Or do they look the other way?
“In my view, they are aware and they are just holding on hoping that it is not their school,” Ridpath wrote in a follow-up email. “Most presidents do not have the backbone to fight this, and they know they have to keep donors happy. They have no power when it comes to athletics, in my view, especially at big-time schools.
“One of their major flaws is that (college presidents) overvalue it, too. Basically saying that athletics is the front porch and giving the impression by acts and words that it is the most important function. That attitude has also allowed it to run amok.”
Words of advice
Former UK All-American Jack Givens said on Thursday that he took no pleasure in the NCAA stripping Louisville of its 2013 national title. His words seemed prescient the next day when the Yahoo Sports story implicating Kentucky broke.
This timing made David Ridpath recall words of advice he often offers.
“I always tell every school, don’t take a victory lap,” he said. “Your turn in the breach is coming.”
There are no seniors on the team, but Kentucky is not going to let that prevent a traditional Senior Night ceremony before UK plays Ole Miss on Wednesday in its final home game of the season.
“We’ll honor our senior cheerleaders and honor our senior folks that are in our program,” Director of Athletics Mitch Barnhart said.
UK is also considering others that might be honored.
Barnhart dismissed the possibility of UK saluting likely one-and-done players before what would be their final home game. “It’s Senior Day,” he said.
Reader Joe Burgess objected to a line in a story that proposed the 1978 national champions as the most beloved team in UK basketball history. He suggested that the Fabulous Five or The Unforgettables might be more fondly remembered.
The Fabulous Five set in motion Kentucky as a powerhouse by winning the 1948 national championship. And four holdovers helped UK win the 1949 national championship.
The Unforgettables did not win a championship. But by staying despite NCAA sanctions, Richie Farmer, Deron Feldhaus, John Pelphrey and Sean Woods enabled Kentucky to have a team in 1989-90 and 1990-91.
Burgess cited The Unforgettables’ Kentucky roots — all but Woods were from the state — as a reason to consider them the most beloved team.
But Burgess acknowledged the affection fans have for the ’78 team. “Awfully likeable group,” he said. “Exceedingly affable. There didn’t seem to be a swollen head among them.”
Auburn had already been through a lot this season. Implicated in an ongoing FBI investigation of college basketball. Two players — Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy — were held out of games as a result. Short-handed. Under-sized.
Despite it all, Auburn closed in on an SEC regular-season championship. Then last weekend the Tigers’ nominal big man, Anfernee McLemore, sustained a gruesome ankle injury.
“Best shot blocker in college basketball for his size at 6-7,” Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl said of McLemore.
When asked Monday about the season-ending injury being one too many burdens for the Auburn team to bear, Pearl said, “There is no breaking point. We have a resilient, tenacious, gritty group of guys who are talented and hard-working and trusting and relying on one another. We have a terrific team.”
Auburn then looked terrific in a 90-71 rout of Alabama on Wednesday.
To Lexington businessman Jim Host. It was announced last weekend that he will receive the John Bunn Lifetime Achievement Award from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
“I am deeply honored and humbled,” he said. “It was totally unexpected. Certainly in my wildest expectations, I never expected anything like this.”
Past winners of the award include former UK player and Director of Athletics C.M. Newton, John Wooden, Dave Gavitt, Morgan Wootten, Meadowlark Lemon, George Raveling, Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany and Marty Blake.
“It’s a listing of a who’s who,” Host said. “And I don’t know how I belong with that group.”
Host, who grew up in Ashland and later played baseball for UK, introduced corporate sponsorships and entrepreneurial possibilities to college basketball. He founded Lexington-based Host Communications in 1972 and changed the nature of the sport.
During a recent telecast of a Pac-12 game, Bill Walton referred to Host as “the David Stern of college basketball.”
“I regard that as the ultimate compliment,” Host said, “because there is no question that David Stern completely made the NBA. So I don’t see how he can compare me to him. I just appreciate being in the same sentence.”
To Phil Argento. He turned 71 on Thursday. … To Rajon Rondo. He turned 32 on Thursday. … To former UK assistant coach Herb Sendek. He turned 55 on Thursday. … To Jamal Murray. He turned 21 on Friday. … To Tom Heitz. He turned 57 on Friday. … To Joey Holland. He turns 63 on Sunday … To former UK sports information director Chris Cameron. He turns 58 on Sunday … To former CBS college basketball analyst Billy Packer. He turns 78 on Sunday … To former Florida big man Joakim Noah. He turns 33 on Sunday … To Chuck Aleksinas. He turns 59 on Monday. … To Marquis Teague. He turns 25 on Wednesday. … To Tayshaun Prince. He turns 38 on Wednesday.