UK Men's Basketball

Early Madness events could end this year

Kentucky better enjoy staging its Big Blue Madness a week earlier than almost all other programs this year because UK might not be able to circumvent the rule on starting pre-season practice in the future.

The National Association of Basketball Coaches has told the NCAA that it would support a ban on early Madness celebrations. And Jim Haney, the NABC executive director, said on Wednesday that he expects the NCAA to mandate that all Madness celebrations be held on the same date beginning next year.

The NCAA cited Oct. 17 as the date programs can begin pre-season practices this year. Kentucky circumvented that starting point by manipulating another rule which allows coaches to work with their teams for two hours each week from Sept. 15 to Oct. 17. After getting permission from the NCAA, Kentucky decided to save its two hours next week and use them as part of a Madness celebration on Oct. 10.

Illinois also will stage its Madness on Oct. 10, Haney said.

The earlier date gave Kentucky and Illinois an almost exclusive chance to impress recruiting prospects. Good for UK and the Illini.

From Haney's wider perspective, the problem is the early Madness celebrations could be used by opponents of another coaching desire being promoted by the NABC. The organization wants to persuade the NCAA to allow coaches to work with players in the summer. But, Haney said, critics can use the circumvention of Madness rules to resist giving coaches more access to players.

"Those who oppose 'skill instruction' (off-season workouts two hours a week) would see creating public events as an example of coaches not all that interested in working with kids," said Haney, who added that critics would say skill instruction is a guise for something "all about recruiting."

Haney termed the NABC's opposition to early Madness celebrations as looking out for the best interests of the game. Because of stricter academic guidelines, increasing numbers of athletes will attend summer school, he said. So coaches want to use the players' presence on campus to also work on basketball skills.

The NABC position on Madness marks the second time this year that the organization has opposed an action by Kentucky Coach Billy Gillispie. Earlier this year, the NABC called for its coaches not to offer scholarships to prospects in the ninth grade or younger. This call came after UK accepted a much-publicized commitment from eighth-grader Michael Avery.

Gillispie could not be reached for comment about the NABC stance on Madness. Earlier this year, he shrugged at the organization's objection to early commitments and said he would follow whatever guidelines it proposed.

When asked what should be read into the NABC twice objecting to Kentucky's actions, Haney noted that UK was not the only program making such moves.

Haney cast the NABC's opposition as a sign of its failure to communicate to its members. "We have to find a better way to communicate (to make sure) we're all on the same page," he said.

"We certainly don't think anybody's trying to label Billy as a bad guy or doing bad things, per se. The (NABC) board, from its perspective, is looking at what's in the best interest of the game."