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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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Meanwhile, Kentucky fans don't know what to think of Roselle. They can't figure whether he has sold the farm down the river of academia or what, but surely he and Newton would get a warm response if they could lure New York Knicks coach Rick Pitino to Lexington. Pitino's team was eliminated from the NBA playoffs on Friday by the surging Chicago Bulls, just days after Newton ignited a tabloid storm across the New York metropolitan area by claiming publicly that Pitino was his first choice for the vacancy. Newton said he agreed with Virginia's Terry Holland, 47, who has been mentioned as a candidate for the Wildcats' vacancy, that the longer the probation at Kentucky, the stronger the need for a young coach. Pitino is 36. Newton said he would ask that the trustees approve a five-year contract for the new coach. "We are going to get this thing back on educating our people so that no one inadvertently violates a rule," said Newton. "Then if somebody [does], it's not an inadvertent violation. It's a wanton violation. Then we disassociate the guy from the program."

The reaction by other college coaches to the Kentucky situation was predictable. Most publicly expressed grave concern over the severity of the penalties. But privately they were incensed that Kentucky did not get hit harder.

"If Kentucky is guilty of putting $1,000 in the mail, that's bad stuff, real bad stuff," said Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins. "If that's true, it's hard to feel sorry for Kentucky. It's a great example of winning at all costs. The expectations of the Kentucky basketball fans have created a monster. Basketball is just too big at Kentucky, too big and too important. I would hope this will get it back in perspective. The sentence is definitely harsh enough."

"As far as I'm concerned, Kentucky did get the death penalty," said Syracuse's Jim Boeheim. "The length of time it took the NCAA to come down with the penalties will have the most severe impact of all. Kentucky's program has been at a standstill. In effect, that ruined recruiting for the next year or two."

Jim Harrick of UCLA said the sanctions were "as strong a penalty as anyone has ever received, except the death penalty. The severity of the acts is indicated by the penalties."

Notre Dame's Digger Phelps, however, points out a loophole that might hasten the Wildcats' healing process. "[Kentucky] can redshirt the incoming freshmen and it won't be affected as much," says Phelps. "And next year's recruits can be told they'll be redshirted and then still play in four NCAA tournaments. The TV sanctions also penalize schools like us. When we're the home team against Kentucky, we also have to lose a TV appearance."

What about the Wildcat fans? "They won't change," says Phelps. "They'll just be mad at the NCAA. Some of them are part of the problem. I don't think that money [in the Emery envelope] came out of Eddies [Sutton's] pocket."

Joey Meyer, the coach at DePaul, addressed the larger ramifications. "For a school of Kentucky's magnitude to be investigated and then get sanctioned shows that nobody is too big for the NCAA anymore," said Meyer. "That's a good message."

And one that's not lost on the NCAA's harshest critic, UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian. "There were years when [NCAA officials] would never touch a Kentucky," said Tark. "But I think any coach will tell you they've been more consistent in their rulings, and they're coming down hard on just about everybody. Since Dick Shultz took office [as executive director in Oct. 1987], they've come down hard and hit big people. They hit Texas A & M and Houston hard. They hit Oklahoma hard. They hit everybody hard [see box on page 34]."

Now the NCAA is hitting basketball extra hard. With this case, no longer can it be said—as Tarkanian once did—that "the NCAA is so mad at Kentucky, it will probably slap another two years' probation on Cleveland State."

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