For Lexington, It Was Almost Like Watergate
At a recent Kentucky intrasquad basketball scrimmage in Rupp Arena, one of the officials called a questionable foul against Wildcat All-American Kenny Walker.
“Who are you working for,” a fan yelled at the official, “the Herald-Leader?”
He referred to the Lexington Herald-Leader, which called numerous fouls against the university’s basketball program in a series of articles last month.
According to the stories, 26 of 33 former Kentucky basketball players interviewed said they had received cash payments of up to $500 from boosters, sold their season tickets for as much as $1,000 and were paid exorbitant fees for public appearances.
As the NCAA prepared to begin an investigation, many Kentucky fans accused the Herald-Leader of treason.
“We would have offended less people if we had been caught selling secret information to the Soviet Union,” said Jeffrey Marx, one of the two reporters who was involved in the seven-month investigation.
“I have lost what I consider to be some close friends over this. I’m struggling to maintain closeness to a couple of families, one family that had virtually adopted me and the family of my girlfriend. It’s amazed me. To some of the people I thought I was close to, Kentucky basketball obviously is more important than my friendship.”
But despite two bomb threats received by the newspaper and some genuine hard feelings, Herald-Leader executives said the newspaper lost no major advertising and only about 300 subscribers. The Herald-Leader has a circulation of more than 100,000.
Some readers were shocked and others congratulated the newspaper, but most of the reaction was negative. Among those who called to cancel subscriptions was one man who said he would have his baseball bat ready if the delivery boy came calling the next morning.
All of the alleged violations occurred during the 13 years that Joe B. Hall coached at Kentucky. He resigned last March. Neither the new coach, Eddie Sutton, nor any of the current players were implicated.
Sutton said he doesn’t expect the NCAA to penalize the Kentucky basketball program.
“They frown a lot more on recruiting violations than they do on violations that occur after the student arrives on campus,” Sutton said.
“But leave me out of this. All I know is what has been published. I know nothing, I see nothing, I hear nothing.”