Despite all evidence to the contrary, longtime college athletics administrator and observer Donna Lopiano remains confident that collegiate sports can serve to inspire and uplift. The metaphorical horse has not left the barn, run across the pasture and sold its soul to the highest bidder.
"No, no," Lopiano said in a recent telephone interview. "There are solutions. The question is whether anyone is brave enough to pursue them."
It was once thought that school presidents would lead a reform of college athletics. Lopiano, whose Sports Management Resources company offers advice to sports organizations on "integrity, growth and development challenges," no longer thinks so.
"Presidents won't ask for it because they feel powerless," she said.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
To fill the vacuum, Lopiano calls for congressional intervention. The U.S. Congress should appoint an independent board to run college athletics. "Because presidents are too afraid to take charge," she said.
Afraid? Afraid of what? That a serious reform effort would result in, shall we say, the David Roselle treatment?
"Absolutely," Lopiano said. "You take the wrong position in athletics, and guess what? Good-bye!"
In the late 1980s, Roselle sought to elevate UK basketball beyond winning-is-everything. He chose to not only cooperate with NCAA investigators, but to hire former judge James Park to conduct a thorough and honest internal investigation of the program. The prospect of full disclosure angered fans who wanted Kentucky to stonewall the NCAA.
Roselle's house-cleaning enabled UK to avoid the so-called "death penalty," take a bow for attention to rules compliance and begin a Rick Pitino-led renaissance. These good deeds did not go unpunished. Roselle knew that spiteful political opposition meant that his continued presence could hurt the school.
It was about the time that Roselle left UK for the University of Delaware that the idea of presidential control of college athletics took hold. In the early 1990s, the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics recommended that presidents provide adult supervision.
Recent events make that notion laughable.
Only last week, Ohio State President (and amateur comedian) Gordon Gee announced his retirement after The Associated Press published remarks he made in December mocking Notre Dame, Roman Catholicism, the universities of Louisville and Kentucky and the Southeastern Conference. This followed a 2011 scandal punctuated by Gee joking that he was worried then-football coach Jim Tressel, who admitted to breaking NCAA rules, would dismiss him.
This year, Rutgers President Robert Barchi repeatedly looked inept after a video surfaced showing basketball coach Mike Rice verbally and physically abusing players, and then the revelation that new athletics director Julie Hermann heaped abuse on players on the Tennessee volleyball team she coached in the 1990s.
Meanwhile, Penn State's former president, Graham Spanier, faces charges of perjury and concealing child sex abuse allegations involving former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.
Lopiano, formerly the director of women's athletics at the University of Texas for 18 years, noted a precedent for governmental intervention. Alarmed by college football deaths in the early 1900s, President Teddy Roosevelt led a reform of the sport.
As envisioned by Lopiano, new reforms would include:
■ Granting the NCAA a limited anti-trust exemption, thus freeing the organization from the threat of lawsuits. The NCAA would then possess greater power to enforce rules.
■ Capping salaries of coaches and athletic administrators, thus reducing the incentive to act unethically and re-directing revenue to (gasp) the school.
■ Removing tax-exempt status for athletic departments that bolt the NCAA, thus killing the we'll-police-ourselves (wink-wink) rebellion within college basketball.
■ Making players who enter a school under special admission exceptions ineligible as freshmen, thus enhancing academic integrity.
Whatever form college athletics takes, some believe the role (or impotence) of school presidents is incidental.
Welch Suggs Jr., a former associate director for the Knight Commission, told The Associated Press that the essential issue is determining the role of athletics on a college campus.
"If it's to be a big-time American spectacle, like the NFL or Major League Baseball, then no way," said Suggs, now an associate professor of journalism at the University of Georgia. "It makes absolutely no sense for academic leaders to be in charge of it. But if you want it to be a part of higher education and a function of the collegiate experience, someone has to make sure people in athletics know they're part of the educational process and not just a commercial business."
For the 37th straight year, the NBA Finals disappoint a select group of people in Kentucky.
John Young Hamilton, 63, worked as publicity director for the Kentucky Colonels from 1972 until the American Basketball Association disbanded in 1976. He and what he called a "fragile group of us" still carry a torch for the ABA. They long for a series that has two of the four ABA teams absorbed by the NBA: the Spurs, Pacers, Nets and Nuggets.
The group nearly got its wish this year. But the Heat beat the Pacers in the Eastern Conference finals to advance to the Finals against the Spurs.
"It would be final vindication that the ABA hung in there and made it," Hamilton said.
But why care all these years later?
"Mainly because just the pride of the last couple of years of the ABA," Hamilton said. "The last couple of years, we actually thought those teams could play in the NBA. Even though it's not the same now, in some strange way we all just follow it. They almost did it this year."
Hamilton, who works in sales for Three Chimneys horse farm, said other Kentuckians who still care include former UK and Colonels players Louie Dampier and Jimmy Dan Conner, Colonels trainer Lloyd Gardner and Bob Bedell, who played for the Anaheim Amigos and now lives in Louisville.
No surprise that Hamilton will be rooting for the Spurs.
"Oh, absolutely," he said. "
Come a long way
A name from UK's athletic past re-emerged in the news recently. On May 28, Colorado named Ceal Barry its interim athletics director.
Adele Cecilia Barry, a native of Louisville, played for UK's women's basketball team in the mid-1970s. After graduating in 1977, she went immediately into coaching. Two years as an assistant. Four years as the head coach at the University of Cincinnati. Twenty-two years as coach of Colorado's women's team.
Then, with an overall record of 510-284, Barry moved to athletic administration.
To explain why she voluntarily ended a successful coaching career, Barry noted that she first became a head coach at age 24.
"When you're the head coach, you spend a lot of time on the road traveling," she said. "And after 26 years of really spending my summers sitting in bleachers and watching AAU games called games, I just needed a change of pace, a change of profession."
Barry has been Colorado's senior women's athletics director the past eight years.
Her career as a player and coach gives Barry a perspective on how much has changed in women's sports. She recalled coming to UK as a freshman in 1973. The women's team practiced on the on-campus court at the Seaton Center. Memorial Coliseum belonged exclusively to the men's team. The women's schedule was mostly in-state opponents. Only one trip necessitated an overnight stay.
"We were barely an intramural team," she said.
By the time Barry's playing career ended in 1977, the women's team had practiced in Memorial Coliseum, played a game in Rupp Arena and gained the distinction of being ranked nationally. The team came to have home and away uniforms. All this Barry credits to Title IX, the federal law that mandated greater equity in funding for women's and men's sports.
"The change in four years certainly made an impact on me," Barry said. "From a historic context, it allowed me to understand the evolution of all college sports, not just women's, with the influx of resources. Some is great, And some is cause for concern."
Women's basketball made so little of a splash by the early 1970s that Barry came to UK with no intention of becoming a coach. She was an accounting major who aspired to work as an athletic administrator.
To explain her desire to play basketball in those early days of the women's game, Barry wrote in an email, "I'm from Kentucky!!! There is no other sport."
A story from the Washington Post last week caught the attention of Charles Pierce, who writes a blog for the Esquire magazine website. The story involved how a group of Republican congressmen considered voting John Boehner out of his position as Speaker of the House.
"Boehner faced a coup attempt from a clutch of renegade conservatives," the Post story said. "The cabal quickly fell apart when several Republicans, after a night of prayer, said God told them to spare the speaker. Still, Boehner came within a few votes of failing to secure his speakership on the initial vote, an outcome that would have forced a second ballot for the first time in nearly a century."
This prompted Pierce to write:
"A group of lawmakers get together and decide, through prayer, not to throw the Speaker of the House out the window just yet. Not to mock this whole thing, at least not severely, but I am reminded about Bob Knight's perhaps apocryphal reply to one of his Hoosiers when the lad told the coach the team would win if God willed it. "Son," Knight told him, "one day, you'll grow up and you'll realize that God doesn't give a (flip) about Indiana basketball."
To ESPN's Dick Vitale. The ebullient one turns 74 Sunday. ... To LaVon Williams. He turns 55 on Monday. ... To Chuck Hayes. He turns 30 on Tuesday. ... To Eddie Fogler. The former Vandy and later South Carolina coach turns 65 on Wednesday.