BY KEVIN FARIS
Jerry Tipton is the beat reporter for UK Basketball at the Lexington Herald-Leader and is a frequent source of outrage for UK basketball fans. To get a feel for how readers feel about Tipton, simply peruse the comments under most of his stories or check out the comments from John Clay’s blog when he put Tipton up for an approval rating. Or you might remember the problems he had with the Patterson family, as covered here from Kentucky Sports Radio.
While I would love to dive in to the Tipton v. UK feud, and at some point I will, today I want to focus on what I see as an odd source for UK and any related NCAA problems. I want to focus on Michael Buckner, an attorney from Florida who used to work for the NCAA, but now hires himself out to schools to help them avoid NCAA problems.
In “Jerry Tipton’s Notebook” from this past Sunday, he quotes Mr. Buckner extensively on the case of Enes Kanter. He also quoted Mr. Buckner back in August in regards to Eric Bledsoe. In both cases, he seemed to express the opinion that colleges need to do a more thorough background check on their recruits and then decide if the recruits are worth taking the risk. Coincidentally enough, Mr. Buckner is just the man you can hire to do this work for you.
I found it odd that Tipton would go back to Buckner, especially when it appears that he only has two things to say:
- Schools need to do a better job of background checks on recruits
- He can do that job for them.
Tipton’s use of Buckner as a source may cause people to believe that he has thoroughly reviewed the UK situations he comments on, or has done a lot to help schools. But it appears that Buckner is little more than a quote machine, always ready to comment on NCAA investigations in order to further promote himself and his practice. For example: Southern California, North Carolina, or Michigan. There is nothing wrong with this, but before the media and fans take Buckner’s word as an expert, it is important to note that he is little more than a general pundit, no better than the cavalcade of cable news pundits (Democratic and Republican strategists) recycled every night.
So why do Tipton, and other reporters around the country, continue to go to Buckner? My first guess is because he will always have an opinion or quote (talking to newspapers and putting out press releases appear to be a part time job for him), but more importantly he fills the vacuum left when colleges and the NCAA won’t comment.
However, my biggest issue with Buckner’s use by Tipton this past Sunday is that he brought absolutely nothing new to the table. Every point he made could have easily have been made by Tipton, or if he did not want to make them himself, by interviewing anyone who has even remotely followed the Enes Kanter issue.
Buckner’s opinion according to Tipton:
- Michael Buckner, a Florida-based attorney hired by schools to help them avoid
NCAA problems, advises his clients to do thorough background checks on prospects
and then make sober decisions about whether to continue recruiting the athlete.
This ounce of prevention may cause a school to pass on a prospect, and it can
save the school the headaches associated with dealing with subsequent NCAA
problems that arise. Buckner put the Enes Kanter case in this category.
He is wrong on this note, because the potential for Kanter to be ruled ineligible was present from the day he received his first recruiting letter. This is not something that UK found out, it was something they knew. The truth is, if a player is talented, teams will risk the chance he won’t be eligible. Every year football teams sign more players than they have scholarships, because they know some won’t be eligible. This is a risk teams take over and over. The reason they take the risk is because they believe they have a competent Compliance Office, which I believe UK does led by Sandy Bell, and they believe the player will help them win games.
- “This should have been taken care of behind the scenes between Kentucky and the young man and the NCAA and the Turkish club,” Buckner said.
Nothing, and I repeat nothing, that UK does in basketball will ever stay behind the scenes. That Buckner would even suggest this is laughable. UK and Calipari are lightning rods for the media, both nationally and locally, as seen by Pete Thamel’s New York Times article on Kanter. There is nothing UK or even Buckner could have done to keep the Turkish General Manager from talking to the press, and Buckner should know better than to suggest that.
- As Buckner saw it, the Kanter case comes down to whether compensation Kanter received from the Fenerbahce Ulker team exceeded basic necessary expenses.
Well, duh. Once again, Tipton could have asked anyone else in the LHL sports department and gotten the same type of insight.
Because of the high profile players UK recruits, the NCAA history of UK and Coach Cal, and the media spotlight they live under, problems and issues with the NCAA will probably continue to arise. As Tipton digs for information and insight, I hope this is the last time we hear from Buckner. His statements bother me because they seem to imply that Sandy Bell and the UK Compliance Office is not up to the task, with which I would disagree. And while he may have expertise in the NCAA process, he does not add much to the actual story.
I understand that UK and the NCAA will usually not comment on investigations, but there are other people around the country who have a better grasp of the details. For example, Mike DeCoury of The Sporting News would have been a great source in the Katner case, as he has been following the story since April and even predicted the Turkish team’s reaction.
Tipton is the main writer for UK Basketball for the main paper in Central Kentucky. For many, he is the #1 source of information. His readers deserve better than an informercial from an attorney.
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