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Buyouts and Basketball: The Reax

Yesterday, I wrote a strong negative opinion about the University of Kentucky paying $50,000 to the University of Massachusetts to avoid playing the return game of a home-and-home 2-year series next year.  Today, there are many more opinions than mine.

First, though, it's time for me to eat some crow.  Please pass the Tabasco®, I like mine Cajun style.  In the comments section of my post of yesterday, I said that I believed the $50K payment to be liquidated damages for breach of contract, or a penalty clause.  Both are apparently wrong, as it seems clear by reading subsequent articles that this was an actual optional clause that UK was completely within its rights under contract to exercise.  That makes me just another in along line of object lessons about what happens when you "assume" things -- you wind up with feathers in your teeth.

With that having been said, it doesn't change my opinion one whit that UK has acted unethically -- not because it breached a contract, that clearly didn't happen, but because it apparently gave UMass assurances that the game would be played and that it would not exercise the buyout provision, only to pull the rug out from under it late in the game.

But let's give UK a chance to defend itself, and surprisingly, this comes from the Louisville Courier Journal.  This article goes into detail about how and why the decision was made.  Over to you, Mitch Barnhart:

Barnhart, who noted that UK hadn't bought its way out of a game in his five years as athletic director, said he understands UMass' lament but defended UK's decision.

"I'm trying to give (Gillispie) every opportunity to get off to a successful start here at Kentucky," Barnhart said. "That may not sit well with everybody, and this isn't something I wanted to do, but it's what I felt was best for our program. I don't feel good about it, but I do feel like I've done the best thing I can do to protect our program."

I think most of you can predict what I will have to say about this comment.  In the first place, it is downright laughable to suggest that the UMass game will have a perceptible difference on our "opportunity to get off to a successful start". If Barnhart thinks we have fallen that far, he should resign, not because of failure to perform his duty, but because he is so out of touch with reality.  

But more importantly, I believe that when you give your word, you should keep it, even if it means that you might be risking "what is best for our program", if you can get past the obvious absurdity of such a suggestion in this context -- I mean seriously, we are talking a game with UMass here.  I believe you put your word before business considerations this trivial.  I guess I am old-fashioned that way.

Eric Crawford, whom I (and many others who read this blog) have been critical of, sees it this way:

UK's decision to pay a $50,000 buyout rather than play a return game against the Minutemen is business as usual in college sports, but that doesn't make it good business. Especially when UMass is coached by Travis Ford, a former UK standout. A lot of programs back out of games. Ford apparently didn't think his alma mater was like everybody else.

Folks, I don't know about you, but this one stings, and rightly so.  Crawford doesn't see it in the more stark terms I do (God, I could use a good dose of utilitarianism), but we are more in agreement than disagreement.

Crawford goes on to point out that when it comes to buying out games, UK isn't even close to it's rival down I-64:

Some perspective. Folks around here won't need reminding that when Rick Pitino took over at U of L, he bought out of a series with Nevada Las Vegas and a return game to Western Kentucky, got out of a series with San Diego State, pulled out of the Great Alaska Shootout and got Miami to delay a home-and-home series. U of L has offered more buyouts than the newspaper industry.

Some people would say, "See, everybody else does it so it's OK for us to do it!"  Golden Rationalization, anyone?  Frankly, the fact that Pitino did it at Louisville might be the strongest argument of all as to why UK should not do it -- ever.

Ryan Ferguson at the AOL Sports Blog (Full disclosure:  Ryan is AKA "GatorPilot" around here and at Orange and Blue Hue) links my earlier commentary .  He also links this commentary from Matt Jones, who couches it as a pure business decision:

Kentucky honored its business and contractual obligations in ending the deal with UMASS. However it went about its decision in a way that leaves some Kentucky fans (including me) a little queasy. Travis Ford gave a lot to the program and it is a shame that this business decision will have a negative effect on his new program. However, under Billy Clyde the rules have changed. It is a new era in Kentucky basketball and the old ways of doing business have been altered for a new focus on producing a top-notch product on the floor. In so doing, there are going to be some feelings hurt and some toes stepped on. We love Travis, but playing at UMASS was not in Kentucky's best interests....and from now, on for good and for bad, those interests will be priority #1.

I love Matt, and I think he speaks for a number of UK fans with this comment, but he should know better.  He is basically saying that Kentucky's success at basketball is more important than honesty in our business dealings with other schools, or ... well, anything at all.  In fact, he even denies UK broke it's word, just because it didn't break the contract.  Really?  Then what could the Boston Globe article I linked earlier have meant by "assurances the game would be played?"  

This is lawyer-speak for "if it ain't written down, it don't exist".  Try telling that to your wife after you get caught having a little "don't mean a thing" affair on the side, and see how far that flies.  Ethical behavior is far more than living up to the minimum standard of not breaking a contract.

If what Matt means by "the old ways have changed" is that the class and ethics of the former coach is going to be sacrificed on the altar of basketball "success", I will be writing a lot more screeds like this one.  One thing is for sure, there won't be a lot of hand-wringing over ethical issues by fans adopting this "Devil take the hindmost" attitude.    If the coach actually adopts this philosophy (and hopefully he won't), can another FEDEX package be far behind?

Well, at least Larry Vaught agrees with me ...

The UMass AD is also questioning Kentucky's ethics.

Chris Diggs weighs in and thinks it was a bad move for UK.

CSTV thinks it is worthy of the front page of their basketball section.