Midnight Madness comes early at Kentucky this year. It'll start before midnight: 10:30 p.m.
It'll start before madness, too: this Friday, a week before most college programs hold their events to coincide with the official, NCAA-approved Oct. 17 start date for basketball practice.
UK decided to use the NCAA's offseason workout rules to facilitate conducting the Wildcats' annual Big Blue Madness celebration early. This ploy makes it possible for more prospects to attend Kentucky's session and for the coaching staff to get the whole thing over with and move on to the actual business of building a team.
The schedule change ought to be no big deal, but the perpetually out-of-step National Association of Basketball Coaches board and executive director Jim Haney have chosen to make it seem as though Kentucky has done something untoward.
That's the real crime here.
The NABC became so indignant about Kentucky's maneuver that one of its representatives approached the SEC and asked the league to force Kentucky to rescind the schedule change. The SEC, wisely and justly, swatted down that notion like UK center Patrick Patterson tossing an opponent's weak-stuff layup into the expensive seats at Rupp.
Subsequently, the organization took this up with the NCAA and petitioned for emergency legislation, which was deemed to be impossible. But it's likely a rule will be passed in time to make an early Madness impossible next year -- under the guise that skill development sessions should not be public events.
Well, doesn't every practice that's turned into a Madness fall under that definition?
Each coach who agrees to conduct Madness for his basketball program is taking a match to two hours of useful practice time and burning it beyond recognition. He never will get that time back, but he agrees because it can serve the dual purposes of community outreach and recruiting enticement.
Kentucky fans love Big Blue Madness. There will be more than 23,000 of them Friday night at Rupp Arena, and some occupied ticket lines for weeks to have the opportunity to be there.
Wildcats coach Billy Gillispie, though, decided to see if he could make this enterprise a bit more rewarding for the Wildcats. By saving this week's allotted two hours of skill work and spending it all on Big Blue Madness, he sacrificed the chance to incrementally improve the team. But by getting Madness done Friday, the Wildcats will be able to get right into the business of preparing for real when practice officially opens a week later.
They won't have to waste that first practice day on Madness. They won't muddle through an ineffectual Saturday morning workout because everybody is tired from lack of sleep the night before.
And Kentucky also will be able to bring in some prospects for Big Blue Madness who are committed to visiting another program's Madness next week. There's no doubt recruiting was part of the process here, but it's a part of the process for every single program that conducts one of these public practice extravaganzas.
Gillispie did not just cook up this idea and start tacking up posters around Lexington. It went through Kentucky's compliance office, the SEC and even the NCAA. It was obvious there were no rules being broken or evaded. So Kentucky announced the change, and everything seemed fine until a few coaches started whining because: A) Someone else thought of it first and B) UK is one of the few schools that could have a Madness session at 3 a.m. on July 30 and fill a huge arena.
Kentucky isn't breaking rules in holding its Madness this week. It isn't even bending any. All Division I programs are allowed two hours of offseason skill sessions while school is in session and there is no guideline on how that time is spent. They can go twice a week for an hour, three times a week for 40 minutes or 120 times for a single minute. There are more than 330 Division I teams, and probably more than 330 scenarios for how that time is expended.
When Division I football programs conduct their spring games, they don't all do it the same weekend. Auburn played its game March 29, Southern California on April 19 and Kansas on April 14 -- hey, that wasn't even a Saturday!
The NABC ought to be embarrassed for making an issue of this. Its leadership is punishing a dues-paying member who has committed no offense while many coaches are out there blatantly mangling significant recruiting rules.
It's as though there are thieves in the bank vault emptying out the cash and jewels, while Haney is out front making sure folks like Gillispie take only one of the free calendars on display.
Duke coach said that after winning his second gold medal in men's basketball would be his Team USA finale. That may not be the case anymore.
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