CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The allegations of prostitution rocking Louisville's program led to a pointed question at the Southeastern Conference Basketball Media Days on Wednesday. That question: What did the coach know and when did he know it?
Like it or not, several SEC coaches reminded reporters that NCAA rules hold head coaches responsible and accountable for what happens in a program.
"We can't know what's going on," Texas A&M Coach Billy Kennedy said. "The programs have gotten so big and staffs have gotten so big, to say I know everything in my program would be a lie."
Kennedy offered qualified support for Louisville Coach Rick Pitino saying he was unaware of prostitutes being part of the Cardinals' recruiting efforts, as alleged in a new book written by a self-confessed madam.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
"I respect Coach Pitino and I don't believe he knew what was going on," Kennedy said. "Unfortunately, it's our job and we're paid a lot of money to have the responsibility of knowing what's going on in those type situations."
After a pause, Kennedy added, "And I would like to think I would have known that."
Kennedy used the example of televangelist Billy Graham to explain how careful coaches must be. Graham made sure to always be accompanied by another person/witness and kept the door open whenever he met with a woman.
"We have to do that in a different way in everything we do," Kennedy said. "Because we're in ... a high-profile position. You've got to be sensitive to (things) I don't think Adolph Rupp was worried about years before."
Kentucky Coach John Calipari said the NCAA began holding coaches accountable — what became known as "strict liability" — in 2008. That's when the NCAA punished Memphis for playing Derrick Rose even though the player had been declared eligible. The NCAA retroactively ruled that Rose had cheated on a college entrance exam.
Coaches need to discuss the fairness of this standard, Calipari said.
"Are we OK with that?" he asked. "... Say a coach who has done it right, a God-fearing man, and something happens in the city of one of his players with the family and an agent. He's now responsible and accountable. And that's a stain on his career? Should it be? Should he be called a cheater?
With resignation in their voices, several of Calipari's SEC coaching colleagues, said the rule was the rule when asked about Louisville's situation.
"The rule says we are accountable," Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl said. "I don't know how many presidents, CEOs and managers can know everything. That is a standard that doesn't exist in most other places."
Added Mississippi State Coach Ben Howland: "That is the rule. Anything that happens in the program that would be deemed inappropriate, I am held responsible. It doesn't matter what I think. That's how it is."
Media pick UK
For the 11th time since 1999, the media has voted Kentucky the favorite to win the SEC championship.
LSU freshman Ben Simmons was the choice of the media for SEC Men's Basketball Player of the Year. Simmons becomes just the second freshman chosen as preseason player of the year by the media, joining Kentucky's Julius Randle in 2013-14.
Kentucky point guard Tyler Ulis was among players to receive votes for Player of the Year. Other players receiving votes for SEC Player of the Year were Florida's Dorian Finney-Smith, Texas A&M's Danuel House and Vanderbilt's Damian Jones.
House, Jones, Simmons and Ulis were each All-SEC First Team selections along with Kentucky's Skal Labissiere and Ole Miss's Stefan Moody.
"I didn't even know I was preseason first team," Ulis said. "But that's a good thing to have. I'm not focused on that. I want to go out and play, and it'll all work out for itself."
Voted to the All-SEC second team were Finney-Smith, Malik Newman of Mississippi State, Charles Mann of Georgia, Alex Poythress of UK, Tim Quarterman of LSU and Alex Caruso of Texas A&M.
After Kentucky in the order of finish came Vandy, Texas A&M, LSU, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Auburn, Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama and Missouri.
Calipari lauded Marcus Lee's performance in recent practices.
"Marcus, in the last 10 days, has been as good as I've ever seen him," Calipari said. "... He's asserting himself."