A monster that can devour a university president. An escape for a university president into the world of sis-boom-bah.
Lee T. Todd Jr., who announced last week that he will retire as University of Kentucky president at the end of this academic year, spoke of athletics as an entity that must be handled carefully.
Ideally, the president can delegate athletic responsibilities so he can concentrate on such adult concerns as budgets and education. Todd spoke of Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart as someone he could trust with UK's game room.
"He's taken so much responsibility and run it in such a way" that freed him from athletics, Todd said. "(Compliance officer) Sandy Bell and Mitch and the coaches we have, I'm extremely pleased with the quality of athletics across the board.
"It's a big arena. A lot of people can get eaten up by it or get distracted by it. It's also a cushion you can kind of fall into and live there if you want to."
No matter the concerns of faculty, administrators, legislators and benefactors, athletics must have a place at the president's table. Todd noted a weighted phrase favored by the NCAA: Institutional control.
"That's us," he said of UK's administrators. "So we have to be involved."
In reflecting on his soon-to-be 10-year tenure as UK president, Todd acknowledged the challenges he weathered (NCAA sanctions on the football program) and that loom ahead.
One prominent issue is the controversial trend of one-and-done players. UK Coach John Calipari says he does not like the concept of players forced to be nominal college students for one year before doing what they really want to do: enter the NBA Draft. But if one-and-done players are permitted, he must be a pragmatist.
Todd, who is also uncomfortable with one-and-done players, said he has spoken to new NCAA president Mark Emmert about basketball adopting the same guidelines as baseball: a player can turn pro out of high school or, if he chooses to attend college, be bound to stay three years. Emmert liked that idea.
"What he likes is, with summer school, they can be really close to a degree," Todd said. "With one year, you can pretty much float through. They can leave you high and dry."
Todd added that Calipari's one-and-done players for UK did the required academic work.
Of course, the NBA and its players association must cooperate to allow the NCAA to adopt the baseball model. The players association has balked.
"I talked with (Miami Heat president and former Rupp Runt) Pat Riley about it at a Derby party," Todd said. "He said he was willing to get involved."
In pondering his post-retirement years, Todd wondered aloud about joining the Knight Commission.
"There are ways I can get my voice heard," he said. "I have a bit of a reputation from being at UK."
When a reporter suggested that people listen to any UK president, Todd nodded in agreement. "Yes, I have a big megaphone," he said, "and I want to use it."
Ounce of prevention
Michael Buckner, a Florida-based attorney hired by schools to help them avoid NCAA problems, advises his clients to do thorough background checks on prospects and then make sober decisions about whether to continue recruiting the athlete. This ounce of prevention may cause a school to pass on a prospect, and it can save the school the headaches associated with dealing with subsequent NCAA problems that arise.
Buckner put the Enes Kanter case in this category. Questions about Kanter having played on a professional team in Turkey and the possible impact on his eligibility were well known in basketball circles. Now UK finds itself facing a protracted effort to persuade the NCAA to rule Kanter eligible.
"This should have been taken care of behind the scenes between Kentucky and the young man and the NCAA and the Turkish club," Buckner said.
As Buckner saw it, the Kanter case comes down to whether compensation Kanter received from the Fenerbahce Ulker team exceeded basic necessary expenses. The New York Times reported last week that the team paid Kanter and his family between $100,000 and $150,000 over a three-year period. The team also said it gave the NCAA bank and housing records.
"What I'm more concerned about is his last year (with the team)," said Buckner, who once worked for the NCAA. "The newspaper said he received a $6,500-a-month salary, which put him on par with other players on the team. ... Clearly, based on the facts in The New York Times story, he was a pro for that last year."
The Times cited Fenerbahce Ulker General Manager Nedim Karakas as saying Kanter received an initial payment of $19,800 and then monthly payments of $6,500.
Buckner, who earlier this year questioned how thoroughly UK checked Eric Bledsoe's background when questions arose about the player's academic transcript, said Kentucky might question the credibility of what Karakas told The New York Times.
"I advise my clients when they recruit foreign student-athletes, especially ones that played on any type of foreign team, that they make sure they know what type of benefits they received while they played for that foreign team," Bucker said. "... Getting foreign students cleared when they've received some type of expenses, based on my experience, it's a very tough standard to try to meet with the NCAA."
Tony Greene officiated his first Southeastern Conference game at Kentucky on Nov. 26, 1994. He remembers the score — 124-50 — if not the opponent.
"A Tennessee Tech type," he said last week. It was Tennessee-Martin.
Almost 16 years later, another memory remains vivid.
"Coach (Rick) Pitino called me over in the final few minutes," Greene said. "He said, 'The game is not over.'
"Ever since then, I don't take any game for granted."
As evidenced by the many times the SEC assigns Greene to its most important games, he has done his work well. Further evidence came last week when the Atlanta Tip-Off Club named Greene its men's Official of the Year.
"I was excited to receive that," Greene said. "It's not something you say, 'I've got to get that award.'"
Greene grew up in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where he played multiple sports as a high school athlete and then basketball for Flagler College, an NAIA school in St. Augustine, Fla.
While attending a hotly competitive high school game in Miami in 1983, Greene began to think about becoming a referee.
"I thought, I'd like to see if I could get booed," he said. "I just wanted to see if I could withstand (the abuse heaped on refs)."
So when fans boo one of his calls, Greene said he thinks, "OK, this is what I wanted."
After that high school game, Greene sought out the referees to ask how he could get involved.
In working high school games, he had the good fortune of catching the eye of Virgil Valdez, a Sun Belt official who became Greene's mentor.
It wasn't long before Greene began working small college games in Florida and making his way up the officiating ladder. He first worked Division I games in 1988 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. Six years later, he was an SEC referee working a game in Rupp Arena.
Going into this coming season, Greene has worked in the SEC, Southern, Atlantic Sun, Ohio Valley, Big East, ACC, Big 12 and Conference USA. He's worked six Final Fours, including four national championship games.
Greene expressed his appreciation in joining past winners of the Atlanta Tip-Off Club's Official of the Year award. Those past winners include John Clougherty (1989), Don Rutledge (1991), Tim Higgins (1994), Andre Pattillo (1999), Gerald Boudreaux (2000), Ted Valentine (2005), John Cahill (2007) and Mike Kitts (2009).
In speaking to fans lined up at Lexington's Barnes and Noble to get a copy of his book Bounce Back signed earlier this month, UK Coach John Calipari noted the value of posting news on his Facebook page.
"If you put it on Facebook, (reporters) have to print it and credit it to Facebook," Calipari said. "If they're trying to write a story, I write it first."
A fan waiting to have Bounce Back signed asked UK Coach John Calipari if he planned on producing another book.
"I was going to do one on how everyone's a recruiter," Calipari said. "A fun one about stories (from the basketball world)."
But, Calipari said, the demands of being UK coach make it difficult to find time for a book project. He asked former UK coach Joe B. Hall if anyone could do the job for 10 years.
"That's the max," Hall said.
This led a fan to ask Calipari if he was happy as UK coach.
"I'm loving it," he said.
Attendance after games
While UK drew more fans than any college team again last season, Coach John Calipari claimed another attendance milestone.
"We were in the top 30 in the nation," he said. "Not in the games, for the radio show after the games."
About 40 of UK's 2,000 faculty members attended a forum staged to help the academic community better understand its athletic cousins. The forums, which are held in Room 106 of the White Hall Classroom Building, are titled Insights into UK Athletics.
Coaches Gary Henderson (baseball), Rachel Lawson (softball) and Craig Skinner (volleyball) answered questions posed by UK faculty representative Joe Fink, who served as a moderator.
In general terms, the coaches talked about their backgrounds (Lawson comes from a family of 12, Skinner was a walk-on football player for Bo Schembechler at Michigan), the time demands on athletes (Lawson's players regularly run at 5:45 a.m.) and how the Internet age reduces attention spans.
At the end, Fink announced that the next forum will be Oct. 13 and feature UK basketball coach John Calipari. That prompted Skinner to quip, "Could you give us a head count on those who attended this one and the next one?"
When taking questions from students before signing the paperback edition of his book Bounce Back, John Calipari heard this:
"My brother is a Duke fan," a student called out. "Any chance he will bounce back?"
To which, Calipari said, presumably tongue in cheek, "Their fans are pretty disgusting."
That prompted the students to applaud.
Former UK guard Ramel Bradley has a new song titled Fly. The song is a collaboration by Bradley and Jonathan Webb. The music video was shot in New York City and directed by Greg DeLiso.
Here's the link: http://www.vimeo.com/14819959
Bradley's Web site is dreamsmooth.com
In announcing his retirement, UK President Lee T. Todd Jr. said that a blogger suggested he was leaving because of divisions on the Board of Trustees.
"A blog is a blog is a blog," Todd said. "How anybody can get their news from a blog is a crime."
To Mark Pope, a solid role player on Kentucky's 1996 national championship team. One of the nicest, most unaffected players in UK basketball history turned 38 on Saturday.
First-year Wake Forest coach Jeff Bzdelik hired Pope as an assistant coach for this coming season. Pope played for Bzdelik for two seasons when they were with the Denver Nuggets as player and coach, respectively.