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Curry Kirkpatrick
May 29, 1989
Kentucky could have received the death penalty for basketball misdeeds; by cooperating, the Wildcats stayed their execution
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May 29, 1989

Dodging A Bullet

Kentucky could have received the death penalty for basketball misdeeds; by cooperating, the Wildcats stayed their execution

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The reason they aren't has a lot to do with Kentucky president David Roselle's accepting the resignation of Cliff Hagan as athletic director and his hiring of Newton, the former Alabama and Vanderbilt coach and one of the game's cleanest of Mr. Cleans. Even as Roselle was spending $356,675 in legal fees, according to university records, to defend his program—and predicting last week that Kentucky basketball was "going down the plumbing"—he was sipping from the cup of kindness, not to mention chugalugging from the keg of cooperation, with the NCAA.

"I don't think I've ever seen a higher level of cooperation," said NCAA associate executive director Steve Morgan, who announced the sanctions at an SRO press conference in Lexington. Other "mitigating factors" that helped stay Kentucky's execution were Roselle's extensive internal investigation; his quick implementation of institutional controls over the basketball program; the switching of Wildcat Lodge, the chalet of a players' dorm, from the aegis of the athletic department to the direct control of the university housing office; the disassociation from the basketball program of a "representative of its athletics interests" (read: booster) who was involved in several violations; and probably most significant, the removal of coach Eddie Sutton and his staff.

Asked how close Kentucky had come to the death penalty, Roselle said "about four feet" and spread his hands in demonstration as if he were bragging about the one that got away. But Roselle also said, "The integrity of our great university stands higher than ever before." The prez might have been well advised to throw that one back in the water.

In effect Kentucky basketball has been on the lam for four years, or since the Lexington Herald-Leader won a Pulitzer Prize for a 1985 investigation that exposed widespread corruption in the program, ranging from boosters' "$100 handshakes" with Wildcat stars to free meals for players and other unseemly perks. At that time the NCAA's crack investigative force, presumably made up of Geraldo Rivera, Inspector Clouseau and Roger Rabbit, failed to develop enough evidence to prosecute—although Kentucky-was cited by the NCAA for a lack of cooperation. This time the violations were brain-bogglingly loud and sorrowfully clear.

For starters, former Kentucky assistant coach Dwane Casey, Manuel and sophomore forward Chris Mills all took heavy shots from the NCAA. Casey was found to have sent $1,000 to Mills's father, Claud, in an Emery Worldwide package in March 1988. This bizarre incident instigated the new investigation of Kentucky only five weeks after Clouseau & Co. had wound up the old one. Moreover Casey, who continues to profess his innocence, was found to have lied to university and NCAA investigators about his role in the case.

The NCAA placed Casey on conditional probation for five years, meaning that if he seeks employment at another NCAA member school during that period, he and representatives of that school will be requested to appear before the NCAA's Committee on Infractions and "show cause" why he should be hired. "I know I didn't do it [put 20 $50 bills in the Emery envelope] and will proclaim my innocence until the day I die," said Casey. He said he would continue his $6.9 million defamation and invasion of privacy lawsuit against Emery.

Mills was declared ineligible to play for Kentucky, but he can transfer, sit out a season and have three years of eligibility remaining. Look for him to wind up at Arizona or, more likely, hometown UCLA. "It [the probation] may have been bad news for Kentucky, but it isn't bad news for Chris," Claud Mills told the Los Angeles Times.

Right. Business as usual.

A fairer penalty for Mills would have been to require him to play next fall—at Kentucky. But that still wouldn't approach Manuel's sanction—banishment from NCAA basketball. The NCAA found that Manuel, a high-school All-America, committed academic fraud by cheating on his college entrance exam, reportedly by copying answers from the test of another student in the Lexington school where the test was administered. That strikes at the heart of a university's integrity and, according to Morgan, warrants a stiffer penalty than being sent a silly thousand bucks by a recruiter.

Sutton was only grazed by the NCAA, which might explain why he expressed surprise at the penalties' severity. "I was the only one to defend the players," said Sutton in an emotional farewell. "I am satisfied by my vindication.... My reputation was impeccable before a year ago."

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