Thursday night's Enes Kanter ruling was a tough one for Kentucky's famously rabid fan base for two reasons.
One: Losing Kanter to "permanent ineligibility" means Kentucky will enter the 2010-11 season without a legitimate big man. That hurts. Duh.
And two: Kanter took on a rare place in UK folklore, spurring obsessed Kentucky fans to spawn the "Free Enes" movement, a sort of provincial anti-NCAA rallying cry. At least one, um, enterprising Kentucky fan showed up to NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis with a "Free Enes" T-shirt on. As is so frequently the case, Big Blue Nation was not taking this one lightly.
So how are fans reacting? Many seem to have resigned themselves to the decision, though there is some measure of anger at the NCAA's rules, if not the NCAA itself. The typically reasonable folks at A Sea of Blue are already looking forward, in the process astutely reminding readers that even John Calipari isn't taking this one personally. Calipari has been outspoken about Kanter's amateur status before -- he addressed the issue after Kanter's former general manager told the New York Times that Kanter had been paid as a professional in Turkey. But at SEC media day, Calipari evoked an admirably reasonable stance:
"The NCAA is not working against us or this young man," Calipari said at SEC Media Days. "This is a hard decision. He played for the club when he was 14, 15 and 16 (years old). They know that. They also know the decision they make, with a kid in a similar situation, this is going to be it.
"I think our fans get to (thinking), 'Why is the NCAA doing this to us?' They're not doing it to us, they're trying to figure this out," the coach said. "I want the kid to play tomorrow but I want (the NCAA) to get it right."
Kentucky fans may not agree with the decision or with the NCAA's rules regarding the $33,033 Kanter was paid during his time as a Turkish quasi-pro. They may point to reports that $20,000 of that money was used for educational expenses, and that the Kanter family offered to reimburse the money before the NCAA declined. There are nuances to Kanter's case that make the NCAA's unequivocal language ("permanent ineligibility") seem somewhat harsh.
But they should probably also agree with Calipari: The NCAA isn't trying to sabotage Kentucky with its decision. Instead, the NCAA is wading into challenging, unexplored waters. The Kanter decision will set a precedent for future rulings on the amateur status of European club players, and the NCAA's primary concern was making sure that precedent was set appropriately. Disagree or not, the NCAA was acting in good faith, something many UK fans seemed to forget amidst all the "Free Enes" fun.
In other words, we can disagree without being disagreeable. Words to live by, and all that.