When David Roselle presided over the clean-up of Kentucky basketball in the late 1980s, he suggested that breaking rules did not need to happen here. UK basketball's exalted position made cheating unnecessary, he said. Many inherent advantages — 24,000 at home games, regular national television exposure, winning tradition — trumped the need to cut corners, push the envelop, operate outside the box or any other euphemism a person might prefer.
C.M. Newton, the man Roselle hired as UK athletics director to breathe life into this kind of thinking, uses the term "gray area" to connote, shall we say, a liberal interpretation of rules.
When asked last week if he subscribed to Roselle's view that sports dynasties did not need to cheat, Newton said, "But everybody operates in the gray area now."
Newton, the featured guest as Georgetown College launched a "Conversations with Champions" series on Thursday, said the changing nature of college athletics made for a different reality.
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"I think the coaches are no longer (interested) in the spirit and intent of rules," he said. "They're interested in knowing how far can we go."
UK, which awaits judgment on two high-profile cases, remains a daredevil. The NCAA must decide if Enes Kanter, whose professional past in his native Turkey scared off several prep school coaches a year ago, can be eligible. And the Birmingham (Ala.) City Schools hired attorneys to judge the validity of news reports that raised serious questions about the academic transcript of former UK guard Eric Bledsoe.
If the NCAA rules Kanter ineligible, it's a significant setback for Kentucky this coming season. If the soon-to-be-released Birmingham City Schools report validates news reports, Bledsoe could be ruled ineligible retroactively and UK would face the possibility of vacating last season's 35 victories. Of course, the latter would mean UK loses the distinction of being the first program to amass 2,000 victories. Already a joke circulating has this coming season's slogan being UK2K2.
"I don't view it as being embarrassing," Newton said of those pending cases, "and I'll tell you why. Everybody else recruited those kids, too."
Kanter originally committed to Washington. Newton, who sat on the FIBA board of directors for 16 years, noted that club teams are a foreign concept figuratively as well as literally. So The New York Times report of the Turkish team Fenerbahce Ulker paying Kanter and his family between $100,000 and $150,000 for living expenses over a three-year period might not necessarily fit into our concept of a salary of excessive expenses, Newton said.
As for Bledsoe, Newton voiced a familiar lament: That the NCAA's Eligibility Center ruled the player eligible, so it's not fair to hold a program accountable after the season.
That's what happened when the NCAA ruled Derrick Rose ineligible and ordered John Calipari-coached Memphis to vacate its 38 victories and Final Four appearance of 2007-08.
"The NCAA was dead wrong," Newton said, "to come back a year later and take whatever action they took."
But, the NCAA asks, what should it do if new information surfaces in the interim?
"Then they better be sure of their information in the first place," Newton said. "Jeez-so, Pete."
Big Blue is watching ...
With reports last week of U of L's new KFC Yum! Center facing financial difficulties, the Herald-Leader's editorial page wondered if UK was taking notes.
"Clearly, we'd want to watch how others financed it or how those packages were put together," UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said, "to make sure we don't trip and cause a problem for the city of Lexington or the University of Kentucky or the citizens of our area."
Of course, UK is considering a new arena that would be financed by the revenue it generates.
The Courier-Journal reported Thursday that the sales tax revenue from businesses and property near U of L's new arena was not living up to projections. As a result, Louisville's Metro Government might be on the hook for an extra $3.3 million beginning in 2012.
Surely the country's sluggish economy isn't helping as UK explores the feasibility of a new arena. Barnhart noted that Lexington officials are exploring alternative options for financing a new arena.
Barnhart voiced his commitment to a downtown site. "Our goal in the long haul is to continue the town-and-gown relationship," he said.
UK's lease on Rupp Arena expires in 2018, which means the team will have played there longer than its stay in either Alumni Gym or Memorial Coliseum.
"Rupp Arena is a wonderful arena," Barnhart said. "It has unbelievable history and tradition. We get that part. There's nothing about that we don't get."
A new arena could enhance fan enjoyment and serve as an even better recruiting tool, Barnhart said.
Plus, of course, luxury suites and clubs would mean more revenue.
Fans to sue UK?
Lexington attorney Nathan Billings says he's representing six or more fans that are considering legal action as a result of UK's ticket price increases for this coming season.
Billings said that he and his clients believe UK was discriminatory in the increases in K Fund donations it asked fans in the first four rows of Rupp Arena to pay. The donation required to buy tickets in those rows rose from $1,350 to $5,000 per seat. The next-highest increase is $400.
As of last week, no decision had been made about seeking an injunction to stop UK from requiring $5,000 per seat, Billings said. But, he added, at least two of his clients were considering taking UK out of their wills.
Basketball elder statesman C.M. Newton was the first guest in Georgetown College's "Conversations with Champions" series. The host is Billy Reed, a former columnist for the Herald-Leader and The Courier-Journal. Now Reed has the exalted title of "Executive Scholar in Residence" at Georgetown College.
Other planned guests for future conversations include Oscar Robertson, Junior Bridgeman and Bobby Bowden.
Here are a few leftover notes from Newton's appearance Thursday:
■ When Reed noted that Newton had played a key role in integrating SEC basketball as Alabama coach, Newton said, "I was a basketball coach. I did that for a very pragmatic reason. Those were the best players in the state."
■ Newton expressed concern about the business side of college sports overshadowing athletic competition and educational pursuits. "It's just going crazy," he said. "... We're in an arms race right now."
By that, he meant the competition to build more facilities, pay higher salaries and, of course, charge higher prices. "And it never stops," he said.
■ Newton lamented the so-called one-and-done player, but saw it as the result of the NBA Players Association objecting to a rule that might require players to spend more than one year in college. Newton said he favored the college baseball model in which players can turn pro out of high school or accept a three-year college commitment.
UK Coach John Calipari, who is synonymous with one-and-done players, could not be expected not to take advantage of the rule.
"What do you do?" Newton said. "You're popular as a coach and you've demonstrated you can take young players and get them ready for the next level. Very quickly. More want to come, but they only want to come for a year or two. What do you do? 'No, I'm sorry, we're only going to take one or two a year.'
"No! you take them and play your best players."
Whether the NCAA judges Enes Kanter a professional and, thus, ineligible to play for Kentucky obscures another possible problem. Such a judgment might raise another question: If Kanter declared himself an amateur in applying for approval from the NCAA's Eligibility Center, might he then be accused of trying to mislead the NCAA? Would that complicate the chance of receiving a lighter penalty such as suspension for a set number of games?
As other high-profile athletes (see Bryant, Dez) have learned, the penalty for misleading the NCAA starts with permanent ineligibility.
If the NCAA deems Kanter a professional, the onus will shift to Kentucky. UK can accept the NCAA's judgment, wish the likable (and talented) Kanter well and begin planning for this coming season with a team still sure to be competitive. Or UK can embark on a prolonged appeal process in hopes that public relations pressure — or some new development — causes the NCAA to reverse course and declare Kanter eligible.
Given UK's history of improbable successes in this area (see Wall, John), Kanter might be playing for the Cats this coming season. But it seems a steep mountain to climb (see Everest, Mount).
UK women's coach Matthew Mitchell welcomed the news that ESPN will include Kentucky in its Midnight Madness coverage.
"We played our last six games on ESPN and that exposure was invaluable," Mitchell told Herald-Leader staff writer Jen Smith. "We saw a clear difference in our program when we were on that network and the people and the exposure we get.
"When I heard that they were coming to do Midnight Madness, or Big Blue Madness, that's very exciting because that's just that many more households that will be exposed to women's basketball. I know everyone is excited to see Coach Cal's edition of his Wildcats. Nothing but good, good stuff from that announcement and we're real happy ESPN is going to be on campus."
Other programs getting ESPN Madness coverage include the UConn women, Duke, Gonzaga, Memphis and Kansas State.
Auburn released its schedule Friday.
One game jumped from the screen: First-year coach Tony Barbee's first SEC road game will be at Kentucky, coached by his college coach and mentor John Calipari.
Former Georgia coach and associate SEC commissioner John Guthrie died last week at age 70.
Guthrie coached Georgia from 1972-73 through 1977-78. In 1980, he began a 25-year tenure as the SEC's supervisor of officials and point man for men's basketball.
In that latter capacity, he had the unenviable task of explaining to a group of outraged reporters how the league viewed the infamous on-court incident between LSU Coach Dale Brown and Tennessee forward Carlos Groves in the 1992 SEC Tournament.
In lieu of flowers, Guthrie's family asks that donations may be made to the American Cancer Society or a local Humane Society.
To former UK forward Derrick Hord. He turns 50 today.