NCAA crashes Big Blue party

The UK men’s basketball team found a loophole and exploited it. The NCAA immediately closed it.

The Cats held Big Blue Madness on Oct. 10, a week before many other schools held their own versions. UK, along with Illinois and West Virginia, found a loophole in the NCAA rule that allowed coaches to hold a two-hour practice every week before Oct. 17. However, the rule did not specify whether or not the practice could be made public.

NCAA President Myles Brand felt the schools that held their Midnight Madness a week earlier gained an advantage in recruiting. However, UK Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart felt the situation was a unique one and UK was within the rules.

“Rules are there for a reason, and within the rules there are things you can and can’t do,” Barnhart said in an interview with the Kernel before the rule change. “What we did with Big Blue Madness was within the rules.”

Barnhart said he checked the rules and decided it would be a good idea to move Big Blue Madness up a week in an effort to help their recruiting process.

“It irritated some people that we didn’t think it would earlier,” Barnhart said. “What we did was maximize our publicity for our program.”

The Cats maximized their publicity by bringing in big-name recruits to Big Blue Madness, including highly touted center Daniel Orton. Orton committed to UK two days later. The Oklahoma City native is ranked the No. 12 player in the nation by Scout.com and No. 22 by Rivals.com.

Orton said the pageantry of Big Blue Madness and Big Blue Nation impressed him at his Oct. 12 news conference. For freshman forward Darius Miller, the atmosphere created by the fans made for an incredible atmosphere.

“It was an amazing experience,” Miller said at UK’s media day. “The fans were fantastic and it was a great atmosphere to be in.”

On Oct. 30 Brand made the rule change official, as he and the rest of the NCAA Board of Directors voted  to allow coaches to retain the two-hour per week window beginning in mid-September. However, no practice will be allowed to be open to the public until the official day of Midnight Madness.

While Brand was upset at the decisions by UK, Illinois and West Virginia to move their Midnight Madness events up a week, he agreed there was no violation of the rules by any of the schools.

Miller said Big Blue Madness gets UK fans ready for the season, something that will have to be pushed back again next year.

Dave Telep, the national recruiting director for Scout.com, said events like Big Blue Madness play a major role in the recruiting process but are ultimately not the deciding factor. The fact that UK moved up their Midnight Madness a week early drew the attention of the NCAA and the National Association of Basketball Coaches to develop the new rule.

“UK is a cutting edge university,” Telep said. “If something happens at a school like UK, North Carolina or Duke, it’s going to open eyes and other schools are going to try to do the same, if not more.”

However, Telep said UK head coach Billy Gillispie has always been a creative thinker, no matter if he was at UK or elsewhere, and that ended up translating to Big Blue Madness.

“Gillispie has always thought outside the box,” Telep said. “However, the NCAA had to make the rule as a preventative strike before more guys started to get more creative with the old rule.”