UK Men's Basketball

SEC coaches not thrilled by demands of TV, but they know they're part of game

Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings did not like an officials call as Kentucky defeated Vanderbilt  68-66  on Tuesday March 1, 2011 in Lexington, Ky.  Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff
Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings did not like an officials call as Kentucky defeated Vanderbilt 68-66 on Tuesday March 1, 2011 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff

With a noon tip-off against Alabama on Saturday, Kentucky will be facing a Southeastern Conference opponent playing a second game within 48 hours for a second straight weekend. Four times in this season's 16-game league schedule, UK plays such an opponent.

A quarter of an SEC schedule against opponents presumably more susceptible to fatigue and undoubtably preparing on the fly sounded like an unfair advantage to the coach of the only other team unbeaten in the SEC, Vanderbilt Coach Kevin Stallings. UK does not have a Thursday-Saturday tandem of games.

"Go figure that one out for me, would you?" Stallings said earlier this week.

But UK Coach John Calipari spun the disparity of schedules as no big deal.

"I don't know," he said Friday. "I think if it was my team, they'd just want to keep playing games."

Calipari then mimicked the reaction he'd expect from players if UK had to play a Saturday afternoon game preceded by a Thursday night game.

" 'Does that mean we don't have to practice?' " Calipari said before shifting into an Allen Iverson impersonation. " 'Practice?! Practice?! Are we talking about practice?!'

"Ask my man, A.I., about it?"

Many reporters heehawed. But Stallings apparently did not find it funny when he spoke to reporters before Vandy played at Alabama on Thursday night. The Commodores play Mississippi State on Saturday night.

The Vandy coach acknowledged the made-for-TV nature of SEC scheduling, but ...

"We all agreed to do it, so if you have one (Thursday-Saturday stretch), like we have one, I'm not going to complain," he said before adding, "To not have any and to be able to play four teams that have to do it to play you ... That's not right."

SEC spokesman Craig Pinkerton said the league tries to spread the Thursday-Saturday tandem games as wide as possible. The league limits the Thursday-Saturday tandems to no more than four per team. There's no limit on how many opponents playing a second game within 48 hours a team might have, Pinkerton said.

When asked Friday about Thursday-Saturday tandems, Stallings softened his stance.

"I would much rather have the second game of a Thursday-Saturday at home than on the road," he said. "It's just more preferable for a lot of reasons. Kids get to sleep in their own beds and you can kind of get back in your routine that you're very familiar with. The Thursday-Saturday thing is a challenge. ..."

Vandy played at Alabama on Thursday night, and plays Mississippi State at home Saturday night.

"We all agreed to it and this is our week," Stallings said. "We have no complaints. We have no issues with it. It's just something we have to do."

Stallings dismissed any concern with fatigue. He likened the two games in three days to the NCAA Tournament format.

"This is what we're going to have to be able to do in order to do what we want to do later on in the season," he said.

Calipari noted that two other SEC teams — Auburn and LSU — are like Kentucky in not having to play on a Thursday and Saturday of the same week this season. In the three years of the SEC's agreement with ESPN to play Thursday nights, the Cats have done Thursday-Saturday once: beat South Carolina at home and then lost at Tennessee on Feb. 25 and 27, 2010.

Calipari also pointed out that Kentucky does play a Thursday night game: against Georgia on March 1. But the Cats don't play again until Sunday, March 4, at Florida.

"Television does most of this," Calipari said. "So what I'd tell you is the option is don't go on TV, and play when you want to play the dates you want to play it. And forget about TV."

Of course, college programs crave the exposure that comes with television. With the SEC reportedly making more than $1 billion in TV rights fees, no team can opt out of the dictates of television.

"If TV wanted us on Thursday, believe me, we'd play every Thursday, and I wouldn't say anything," Calipari said. "That's just how it is. It's TV."

Alabama Coach Anthony Grant downplayed the significance of tipping off 39 hours after the final buzzer against Vanderbilt.

"That's our job as coaches," he said of getting the Tide ready. "We have to make sure that we get our guys prepared so we will make sure we give them as much information as we feel can be useful. We don't want to overload them."

To hear UK players, the Thursday-Saturday tandem of games should concern Alabama.

"It's going to be hard for them," Doron Lamb said before adding, "We're not really worried about them. We're worried about ourselves."

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