- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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Yesterday, yours truly wrote about the NCAA's newly opened can of worms. Basically, in taking a direct tact against Kentucky's premature celebration of John Calipari's 500th win (Kentucky didn't subtract the 42 games Calipari had vacated at Memphis and UMass when the school honored its coach in February, and listed the incorrect tally in its media materials) the NCAA spurned the always-active Kentucky fan base into scouring the media guides of various other schools in the country to see if the NCAA was being consistent on the matter.
A segment of Kentucky fans got a little peeved at me for yesterday's post, which I can kind of understand, because at least one paragraph made it seem like I thought it was OK for Kentucky to be policed differently than, say, San Diego State. It didn't help that I missed a ceremony SDSU held for Steve Fisher, which negated the argument that Kentucky's "milestone ball," as one clever Twitter responder called it, was the reason why the NCAA noticed Kentucky's errors first.
In reality, what I should have written is that the NCAA Committee on Infractions is, in most cases anyway, a responsive organization. Like your local private eye (do those still exist?), most of the cases it examines are borne of tips. It got a tip (or maybe a lot of tips, one of which it cited in its letter to UK) about Calipari's 500th win, and it pursued it accordingly. That led to Kentucky's "What'd we do?!" response, which led to the whole silly standoff in the first place. At least, that's my read. I suppose it could be wrong. (And I suppose Big Blue Nation will find a way to be mad at me anyway. Insert sad emoticon here.)
Either way, Kentucky fans feel targeted by the NCAA, and while I don't necessarily think that's the case, in this instance it's not hard to see where they're coming from. Which is why, as I wrote yesterday, the NCAA is now stuck. It has to police everyone's record books, make sure everyone's celebrations were in order, and treat each example of inaccurate wins in the swift, businesslike manner with which it treated UK's.
It might do well to start in the SEC. According to the Gainesville Sun's Kevin Brockway, the Florida Gators are one of the teams Kentucky fans are talking about: In their 2010-11 media guide, the Gators list five wins that were vacated in 1987 and 1988 in which Florida played an ineligible player under former coach Norm Sloan. According to Brockway, Florida placed an asterisk next to the 1988 tournament games but failed to do so for the 1987 wins; therefore, its records from those seasons conflict with the NCAA's official Division I record book. They also have an NCAA tourney banner hanging in their arena with those two appearances included.
Brockway asked the NCAA and UF officials about the matter. NCAA spokesperson Stacy Osborne said it's "acceptable" if schools place asterisks next to vacated wins. Florida men's basketball spokesperson Denver Parler said the school would "make sure the affected info is adjusted or noted where appropriate in subsequent guides."
In other words, this is a minor, minor issue, and it's an easy one to remedy. But as I discovered in the scores of angry tweets yesterday, to Kentucky fans, that's not really the point. The point is the Wildcats aren't the only school to incorrectly list vacated wins. The point is Kentucky fans -- who, yes, may be making too big a deal of this, but again, you can understand why* -- want to feel like their program is treated the same as every other Division I member institution.
It would be foolish to overstate the importance of a few decades-old vacated wins. But it would foolish to understate how important the perception of fairness is to the NCAA. If there's one consistently salient complaint the organization faces too often, it's that it punishes schools arbitrarily and unfairly, not only in basketball but in both major revenue-producing sports. This is one of the concerns NCAA president Mark Emmert has publicly cited as an issue.
In this case, the stakes -- a few incorrect media guides here, a few extra wins there -- are infinitesimally small. But when you add on the importance of perception, well, yeah. This stuff does matter.
*Plus, it's June. We're all suffering through a bit of basketball withdrawal.