Sports in Kentucky by Bob Watkins

Posted July 18, 2012 at 7:00 pm

Congratulations, and a cautionary tale.

From the take-a-victory-lap file, congratulations this week too Kyle Wiltjer.

Fan favorite on University of Kentucky’s NCAA championship team, Wiltjer was one of 52 first year UK student-athletes named to the SEC academic honor roll and the only scholarship player on the men’s or women’s team to make the list. Transfer Ryan Harrow made the list too, but sat out last season.

Wiltjer, an SEC release said, achieved a minimum 3.0 grade point average. The press release told Kentuckians something else. No other one-and-done Wildcat achieved a 3.0 GPA. How plausible then, UK Athletics’ boast two months ago that Cal’s team (almost) had a 3.0 team GPA?

And, congratulations to Matthew Mitchell. While none of his three first year players made the honor roll, UK’s womens’ coach received a nice pay hike and seven year contract extension, $7.95 million.

Wiltjer and Mitchell. Applause please.


Bombs were still bursting in air over Happy Valley, Pennsylvania at the weekend, voices were still raised and media-types beat themselves up for being duped, fooled and stooged. But Joe Paterno’s statue was still there.

When Louis Freeh’s 267-page report hit air along with damning e-mail exchanges from and to Paterno with his spineless higher-ups, it ignited another round of rage, anger and blame-gaming. Venom spew rose to levels normally reserved for politicians at a Fancy Farm picnic.

What positives can be gleaned for Kentuckians from the fall of Happy Valley’s iconic old coach? Are there warning signs here for university presidents in our state from PSU’s cautionary tale?

You bet.

For a start, an internet news headline worth repeating.

“Culture of coach worship must end!” screeched, “Will educators have the guts to fight powerful coaches? Or will they run and hide?”

History indicates the latter.

College presidents generally have become middle men at best in the swirl and greed taking over athletics. They cheer teams from glassed-in suites, kow-tow to coach and ask director of athletics for money.

Question: What do Ohio State, Penn. State, Arkansas, Baylor, North Carolina and Oregon have in common? Mega-paid, media-celebrated, control freak ball coach … who embarrassed them.

All were supported by athletic department gofers made weak by heavy lifting profits to the bank and gone ever more insulated from fans by money and penthouse living. Many have barnacled themselves to a coach, let themselves become administrative clerks.

Red flag example? Athletics director announces his department is in ‘partnership’ with the university. Uh oh.

So, what public perception of how much control University of Kentucky’s Dr. Eli Capilouto have over his athletics department? And, how about University of Louisville Dr. James Ramsey’s control over his multi-million dollar treasury at his athletic department?

Based on what we saw at Penn State and other schools, not enough.

At Kentucky.

Earlier this year Capilouto thanked his director of athletics for a gift, $3 million. Mitch Barnhart was glad to oblige, but it was a one-time-only for “our UK partner.” Uh oh.

Two weeks ago, following another game ticket price hike, Barnhart released a non-SEC schedule with no Indiana game, no game at Louisville’s Freedom Hall for Jefferson County faithful and no plausible explanation. Why? Because, Barnhart is not accountable and because Calipari wanted cupcakes to extend his personal win streak at Rupp Arena whereupon some in the media will gush anew at his genius.

Days later Calipari answered complaints about no game at Freedom Hall with a shrug and nervy scolding. Big Blue fans in Jefferson County, he said, failed to sell out Freedom Hall for last year’s game against Arkansas State. Nonverbal message? This is your punishment.

A year ago Capilouto said decision-making on UK athletics would be moved to his jurisdiction under a new committee. As of this week, the pecking order remained the same – Calipari, his clerk, then the president.

At Louisville.

Rick Pitino’s sex scandal in 2009 from which he admitted paying for an abortion, was a major embarrassment to UofL. A black eye that would have cost another coach his job outright.

Public perception today? School president Jim Ramsey knows who wags this dog. He weighed the black eye, its media shelf life, against revenue profits. An easy call. Did Pitino’s transgression rise to a level of a reprimand? Probation? Are you kidding? The Cardinals are coming off a Final Four season. All else is long forgotten.

Bottom line? As athletic administrators find more ways to market a school’s logo, get more dollars from shoe companies and fleece the faithful, then give themselves pay hikes and bonuses presidents wink, fans get squeezed and we move on.

Capilouto and Ramsey are left to explain tuition hikes and how to avoid talk about decline in opportunity for an education at UK and UofL for a growing number of middle and lower class Kentuckians who “can’t afford it.”

In wake of Penn State and other universities gone ga-ga with their ball coaches and money, school presidents Capilouto and Ramsey had better step up to their “partners” in athletics, demand more accountability, more control, more of the profits, and gumption enough to say “shut up and play Indiana!”


Kentucky coach John Calipari used his latest spin time on ESPN’s Pardon The Interruption to score a clever recruiting point. Before he could be asked about one-and-done, Cal told Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon, (paraphrased) “If I can make 70 families happy in this life, then I’ve done my best.”

Translation: “All you prospects watching, Sugar Daddy Cal can make your family rich in seven months.”

To others, “come to Kentucky and make the SEC honor roll like Kyle Wiltjer.”

Another kiss-of-the-glass bank shot from Cal.