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Hilltopper hoops and $EC profit sharing

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By Bob Watkins

A harvest moon over Kentucky wasn’t the only spectacular last week.

College athletics stole a place in the news cycle galaxy with a triumph for student-athletics that drew virtually no media herd commentary.

First, NCAA president Myles Brand reported a sampling of freshmen enrolled 1998-2001 reflected student-athletes in all sports earning college degrees had reached 79 per cent, one point shy of his goal - eight of every 10 student-athletes leaving college with degrees.

Locally, Western Kentucky University basketball set the bar. Men’s and women’s programs, recorded 100 per cent graduation rates during the sample period.

Coach-of-year recognitions pale in comparison to this high mark by Lady Toppers Coach Mary Taylor Cowles. An Everest Moment - coach achieves perfect balance - academics and athletics and winning. Certainly this will be a sell point during living room talk on the recruiting trail.

Darrin Horn. The Hilltoppers former men’s coach recruited players skilled enough and motivated enough to post four straight 20-win seasons including a dramatic NCAA Tournament run last spring that drew national raves. Yet, his prime legacy is his recruits were more than ball players on winning teams. They graduated and today have options when the ball stops bouncing.

Horn had his critics and I was disappointed when he became just another coach jumping his contract, but his Western legacy stands above all that.

Lagging well behind WKU, graduation rates at big budget Universities of Kentucky and Louisville, basketball and football remained shamefully pedestrian and ought be incentive enough for Mitch Barnhart and Tom Jurich to make graduation numbers a priority over construction schedules for executive suites.

Part 2

Southeastern Conference university presidents made an announcement last week straight from a starry, starry night. Florida’s Bernie Machen proclaimed a piece of the revenue pie from $2 billion deals with CBS and ESPN will go to academic departments.

Whoa. If this were cast in cartoon form, we might see a depiction of a lap dog wagging its Saint Bernard.

Athletic programs supplementing academics. What a break-through from Bizzaro World.

We might applaud except seeing will be believing and any declaration by SEC university presidents is less achievement than first step back to dog-wags-tail.

Qs & A’s

Question: Rich Brooks. You were an ardent critic early in his six-year tenure. What opinion now of Kentucky’s football coach?

A. Brooks has earned his way to Jerry Claiborne Kentucky Hall of Fame level coaching respect in Kentucky. Steady, tough, demands his men behave and be responsible academically and play with pride and high expectation.

Still, I wonder why his teams seem to sleep-walk against South Carolina (0-6) and cannot out-tough Tennessee (0-5).

READERS (RIGHT) WRITE

• About speculation on why KHSAA commish Bridge DeVries has not yet accepted Bowling Green’s bid to host high school football playoffs ...

Dan in Brandenburg, “I must set the record straight regarding the University of Louisville not bidding to host football state title games after this year.

“The situation has nothing to do with UofL not needing goodwill points or seeking more financial compensation. UofL spokesman Kevin Miller (said), the reason for not bidding is because of potential conflict with a Big East Conference home game the first weekend of December. The conference schedule isn’t announced until January, so UofL simply cannot commit Papa John’s Stadium for (playoffs).

 “Addition of a 12th game to college football schedules, the Big East concludes it’s schedule the first weekend of December. It’s unfortunate that the (high school playoffs) will leave the city (but) I hope you will pass along to readers the real reason U of L won’t be hosting them.”

CUMBERLANDS PROSPERS

University of Cumberlands football coach John Bland and his No. 14 ranked Patriots are basking in warmth of October prosperity. Two weeks ago the Patriots stung previously unbeaten Union College to keep possession of the traditional Brass Lantern and climbed up the NAIA poll.

Last week Cumberlands was lauded for most interceptions through six games - 17, one ahead of NAIA power Montana State’s 16 and SMU.

On Saturday the Patriots (6-1) defeated Georgetown for the first time in a dozen years.

Stay tuned.

HOOPS RANKINGS IN KY.

Basketball fans across Kentucky are in for a splendid winter with five teams nationally ranked before the first shot. Rick Pitino’s Louisville is a top five team and UofL’s Lady Cardinals are in polls also.

Three other Kentucky men’s teams are among the best. Victory Sports Network rating NAIA teams puts Georgetown No. 2, University of Cumberlands No. 9, and Campbellsville 14th.

WORTH REPEATING

A Minneapolis newspaper report last week said of Tubby’ Smith: “... (recruited) newcomers have immediately upgraded the talent in the Twin Cities and have raised the expectations of a program that fell on hard times before Smith was lured away from Kentucky last year.”

COMMENT: Lured? Another example of how news reports change with time? Two years since Smith led the parade out of Lexington and already he was ‘lured away from Kentucky.’

And so it goes.

Have an idea, a question or point-of-view to share, write bob Watkins at SprtsinKy@aol.com