Wiedmer: Is 'All-Access' over the line?

Wiedmer: Is 'All-Access' over the line?

October 31st, 2012 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

At 7 tonight the third and presumably final episode of "All-Access Kentucky" will air on ESPN.

Viewed by many as little more than a well-crafted infomercial for the defending national champion Wildcats' storied basketball program, viewed by others -- especially Florida coach Billy Donovan -- as a potentially unfair recruiting tool, the show runs for 30 minutes each episode.

Highlights have included players conversing with professors, UK coach John Calipari discussing the salads his wife packs for him on recruiting trips and Cal chatting with former Kentucky coach Joe B. Hall at Wheeler's Pharmacy, long an early-morning gathering spot for every Kentucky coach from Adolph Rupp forward.

And there's no doubt that it paints Big Blue in a positive light, even if the ratings have been miniscule outside the Bluegrass.

But does it go too far? Does it give a program already headed for its fourth consensus No. 1 recruiting class in five years -- the Cats were either No. 1 or No. 2 this past season, depending on the poll -- an unfair edge?

And if so, how much so?

"I do think if you are using it as a recruiting tool, I don't think that's right," Donovan said at last week's SEC basketball media event.

Others seemed less aggravated by the format, perhaps because ESPN has done such shows before, televising Alabama football practices and once following Wake Forest hoops in similar fashion when Chris Paul played for the Demon Deacons, as well as other schools.

"They wanted to follow us around at Nevada one year," Georgia coach Mark Fox said. "Skip Prosser [the late former Wake Forest coach] told me not to. He said they lost two games while they were filming him that year. So we didn't do it. But those shows have been around for years. I don't see that it's that big a deal."

However, what the NCAA announced Tuesday could be a very big deal going forward for coaches such as Calipari, whose past teams have run into NCAA trouble as he skated away unscathed.

In what can only be deemed landmark legislation by an organization that often seems to contradict its own rule book, head coaches can now be suspended for the actions of their assistants.

"We have sought all along to remove the 'risk-reward' analysis that has tempted people -- often because of the financial pressures to win at all costs -- to break the rules in hopes that either they won't get caught or that the consequences won't be very harsh if they do get caught," NCAA president Mark Emmert said Tuesday.

Added NCAA executive committee chairman and Oregon State president Ed Ray: "We expect head coaches to provide practices and training and written materials that instruct their assistants how to act."

This isn't to say head coaches can't still have their aides fall on swords for them. But they now will have to show strong evidence that the assistant should have known better. And even then the NCAA likely will embrace a "guilty by association" mentality.

And in Cal's case -- when you've had two Final Four runs stripped, at UMass (1996) and Memphis (2008), because of NCAA wrongs -- those associations with such murky figures as Worldwide Wes could prove troublesome.

This is not to suggest Calipari is breaking rules at UK. And almost no one involved in the UMass investigation into Minutemen star Marcus Camby's illegal association with an agent believed Cal should have known.

But the Derrick Rose academic scandal at Memphis was never so clear. Calipari was never directly implicated, but it seemed unlikely that he shouldn't have been at least a wee bit suspicious of the path Rose chose to pass his standardized test score.

Of course, the NCAA first cleared Rose for the season, and many still believe that lone fact should have protected the Tigers' march to that year's NCAA title game.

Regardless, Emmert and Co. are now determined to clean up college athletics for good, though one wonders if they would stand up to a cash cow such as ESPN on something as borderline unfairly advantageous to one school over the rest as "All-Access Kentucky."

Said SEC commissioner Mike Slive last week when the Lexington Herald-Leader asked him about the All-Access show: "The next time we win a national championship, I expect [ESPN] to do the same with that team."

Should that team be Donovan's Gators, it would be interesting to see if Billy D would turn down the exposure if ESPN came calling.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com