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Archive for Saturday, July 16, 2005

Woodling: Jayhawks’ spotlight too bright

July 16, 2005

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When I walked in the door of Hadl Auditorium Friday afternoon, one of the Kansas University sports information staffers handed me a "Media Copy" of the report.

I can remember when Lawrence phone books weren't that hefty.

The "Self-Report of NCAA Rules Violations by the University of Kansas" contained 125 pages -- I counted them -- with eight thick dividers.

Hmm, this must be more serious than I thought. This baby's heavy and must contain a whole bunch of dastardly improprieties.

Wrong. Sure, the football violations were serious and so were the women's basketball no-nos, but why call a press conference to announce them? The rest of the report -- particularly the men's basketball wrist-slapping -- was strictly ticky-tack.

I mean, who cares if former KU basketball assistant coach Joe Holladay improperly reimbursed three prospects at 31 cents a mile instead of 30 cents a mile? The report even mentioned an instance in 2000 when baseball coach Bobby Randall paid $17.49 for a prospect's father's meal outside the permissible 30-mile radius. Geez.

They even sullied Roy Williams, a coach who made Mr. Clean look like Pigpen, for giving the OK for donors to send gifts to players who had completed their eligibility. Heck, that's a practice that started in the late '80s.

Of course, the national media jumped on that men's basketball angle like piranha on hamburger because the possibility of clay feet on the coach of the defending NCAA champions was just too good to pass up. Williams isn't a saint, but this reeked of mud-slinging.

And yet as bad as this press conference made Williams look, it made Kansas University athletics look every worse because it magnified what amounts to a raft of secondary violations.

Chancellor Robert Hemenway called the violations serious. Athletic director Lew Perkins called them serious. And so did Rick Evrard, the attorney for the Overland Park law firm who did the snooping.

Still, the KU infractions don't seem all that serious to me. My definition of serious is when a school is prohibited from appearing on television or in postseason tournaments, or forced to drop its nonconference games. Like Baylor. Then again, maybe the NCAA's enforcement division has only two categories -- serious and real serious.

Did KU make a mistake by calling too much attention to itself with all the trappings of a press conference?

Hemenway didn't think so.

"To my mind, if we're looked on as doing it the right way," the chancellor told me, "I hope other institutions will use us as a model."

Hemenway, as you may know, completed a three-year term as chair of the NCAA's prestigious President's Council in April and it might be assumed he was using his national reputation to send a message to the membership about the importance of fessing up, regardless of the severity of the crimes.

Hemenway refuted that notion, however, saying, "I didn't feel I had any obligation other than to the University of Kansas."

On the flip side, you could argue there is no such thing as bad publicity, that placing Kansas University in the national spotlight, regardless of the context, is priceless. Hemenway insisted, however, that he simply wants everyone to know KU is committed to excellence.

"We pride ourselves in living up to higher standards, and not to minimum standards," he said. "That's why we've treated this the way we have. You can say that's hokey, but for us it's serious."

There's that word again.

In my opinion -- and in all seriousness -- the spotlight Kansas University focused on these violations didn't fit the misdemeanors. It was overkill.

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