HOOVER, Ala. — ESPN's miniseries All-Access Kentucky caused a mini controversy at Southeastern Conference Basketball Media Day on Thursday.
Although saying he had no objection to All-Access Kentucky, Florida Coach Billy Donovan raised questions about the propriety of such a show. Does using such a show as a recruiting tool lessen the practice experience of present-day players? Does a camera crew's presence adversely affect a player's chances to be a "regular" student? Does the camera crew distract players and coaches unnecessarily?
In reaction to Donovan's questions, UK Coach John Calipari said he agreed to the ESPN show as a way to dispel possible negative perceptions of so-called one-and-done players, who serve as a foundation for the program.
"You want your players perceived as who they are and what they're about," he said.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
After checking with the SEC office about possible issues involving rules compliance, UK agreed to three 30-minute shows on consecutive Wednesdays in October. The third and final installment is scheduled for next week.
More than once, Donovan said each coach would have to use his or her own judgment about whether to allow a TV crew into a college athletic program.
"I wouldn't want the disruption of our guys knowing there is something going on right now and how that would impact what we need to get done," the Florida coach said. "... I do think if you are using it as a recruiting tool, I don't think that's right. ... I wouldn't do it as a recruiting tool because you are in practice with players who are in our program right now, you are practicing with your guys."
Calipari, who has headed a recruiting effort that enabled Kentucky to secure the No. 1-rated freshman class four straight years, said his program did not need ESPN's help in getting players.
"It's going to help our recruiting?" he said in a rhetorical question. "What are we going to be? One and One-A?"
Nor did Kentucky seek more exposure, Calipari said. "We don't need anymore."
Donovan raised the possibility of a camera crew intruding on a player's experience as a college student.
"I don't know if I want our kids' days to be interrupted like that because I wanted to necessarily maybe go out and promote the program," he said. "I think that's our job as a coach. ... I wouldn't want our guys to deal with cameras in their dorms. That's just me. I want our guys to focus on being normal college students. But at the same point, maybe it's good exposure for those guys. Maybe it's exposure that will help them later in life. But I would be sensitive to that."
Calipari noted that ESPN did not have full access, no matter what the show's title implies. "They're not in Wildcat Lodge," he said. "It's not 24-hour wherever you want to go."
Other SEC coaches either said they had not watched the show or had no objection. More than one suggested that the SEC's other programs can benefit from the light reflecting off Kentucky.
"The exposure that Kentucky gives us, as far as going out and winning a national championship, the way they continue to go at recruiting and having All-Access on ESPN, I think those things are a benefit for our league," new Mississippi State Coach Rick Ray said. "Now people want to play against a Kentucky and a Missouri. Any time somebody in your league has success it helps."
LSU's new coach, Johnny Jones, agreed.
"Kids want to compete against the best," he said. "... I'd much rather it be someone from our league than from another league."
South Carolina's new coach, Frank Martin, who spoke highly of Calipari's abilities, referred to the show as UK's "24-hour recruiting cycle" on ESPN. "That's awesome," he said.
When asked if All-Access created an unlevel playing field that gave Kentucky an advantage, Missouri Coach Frank Haith said, "Maybe that is something for other people to work out. But it is what it is."
SEC Commissioner Mike Slive said that Kentucky earned its place on the show by winning the 2012 national championship.
"The next time we win a national championship, I expect them to do the same with that team," he said with a smile.
Calipari said he initially resisted ESPN's request to do the show. His concern? "That it'd be all about the NBA, (and) nothing else," he said. "And there was a lot of NBA."
The UK coach sounded philosophical about the All-Access debate.
"If it portrayed us in a bad light, I was going to take responsibility," he said. "If you like us, it's a great light. If you can't stand us, 'What's wrong with the show?' Or you just didn't watch it."