On Wednesday night, less than 36 hours before a prestigious invitational high school basketball tournament was set to tip off at the University of Kentucky's Rupp Arena, the NCAA refused to allow the event to go forward, deeming it to be a "non-scholastic" event. The decision sent the tournament's organizer scrambling for a new venue to host its prestigious event and cast doubts on the future of all high profile high school basketball invitationals which are run outside the guise of traditional state high school sports associations.
As covered extensively by the Lexington Herald-Leader's Mike Fields, the "Rumble in Rupp" basketball scrimmages which were scheduled to take place at Kentucky's home arena on Friday and Sunday were moved to Lexington (Kent.) Christian Academy at the last possible moment after the NCAA refused to grant the University of Kentucky a waiver of possible conflict of interest in hosting the event at Lexington Center, the compound which includes Rupp Arena.
The idea behind the NCAA's decision to refuse the waiver is clear: By granting top prospects the opportunity to play on prestigious college courts, those players might be swayed toward playing at those schools because of the experience at these non-affiliated tournaments.
For example, top prospect Anthony Bennett -- ranked No. 7 in the Class of 2012 by Rivals.com, who is pictured at right -- played for Henderson (Nev.) Findlay Prep in the "Rumble in Rupp" on Friday night … at Lexington Christian Academy. The venue change kept Bennett from playing in Rupp itself, though there is no indication that such a move would affect his recruitment by Kentucky or other schools.
The company which organized the event, Bleid Sports, has traditionally run a series of events at major college sites, including Rupp and Duke's famed Cameron Indoor Arena. The CEO of Bleid Sports, Rob Blair, sent an email to coaches of all the teams involved in the two-day event in which he called out the NCAA for both denying the tournament its scheduled dates in Rupp -- the NCAA had previously given Bleid Sports approval to host its event at the site -- and for rejecting the University of Kentucky's waiver so late in the game; one source involved in the situation told Prep Rally that the documents rejecting access to Rupp Arena arrived via fax at 10:05 p.m. on Wednesday, less than two days before the event was scheduled to tip off (at 8:00 a.m.) on Black Friday.
Here's more of what Blair sent to the teams involved, according to the Herald-Leader:
"Bleid Sports had maintained on two separate occasions official approval to host these events at a collegiate arena (i.e. Rupp Arena). Rupp Arena's attorney also received approval to have these scholastic events at Rupp Arena. Rupp Arena has signed contracts with Bleid Sports, and the deposits for the building have been paid.
"We have fought and will continue to fight the NCAA on this matter. Our lawyer, a man accustomed to fighting the NCAA and winning, will bring some justice on the NCAA.
"However, this does nothing but hurt our schools all around the country playing in collegiate facilities. The NCAA is unjust in cancelling an event 36 hours prior (especially over the Thanksgiving holiday)."
Meanwhile, the NCAA has reportedly given no indication that Bleid Sports' future events at Cameron Indoor, the University of Oregon's Matthew Knight Arena and other events at UNLV's Thomas and Mack Center and Louisville's YUM Center would be subject to the same restrictions that stopped the Thanksgiving Weekend events from going forward at Rupp Arena.
Still, the idea that other events -- the Oregon Showcase is scheduled for Dec. 3 and the "Clash at Cameron" is scheduled for Dec. 17 -- would go on without any incident or potential NCAA intervention might be a pipe dream, given the recent developments. Rather, the question is whether the NCAA intends to try and crack down on -- or even completely eliminate -- the lucrative cottage industry of privately hosted high school showcases taking place in major NCAA venues, or whether there was something in particular about Bleid Sports' Thanksgiving weekend event at Rupp that caught the eye of NCAA enforcement officials.