LEXINGTON, Ky. --- In a classic display of semantic tap-dancing, the University of Kentucky reversed course Friday on its decision to restrict Marvin Stone's transfer to Louisville.
"We met again this morning, and coach (Tubby) Smith has had a change of heart in relation to Marvin Stone," UK Athletics Director Larry Ivy said during an impromptu press conference at Memorial Coliseum. "He has agreed, and I have also concurred, that we would release him to the University of Louisville.
"This came, really, after a gut-wrenching few days for coach Smith. Marvin's leaving the team after the Christmas break was very, very bad timing. Normally these things don't happen in the middle of the season, they happen at the end of the season and you have time to digest them. But leaving in the middle of the season, and also being the very first student-athlete that coach Smith has ever had to dismiss, it was a tough decision. We looked at it from a competitive basis and from a student-interest basis, which is what you try to do in all of these situations."
Ivy went on to explain that the distractions the controversy has caused --- in step with Kentucky's first 0-2 in SEC play since the 1978-79 season --- were hurting the team.
"After the somewhat possibly confusing nature of our (original) statement relative to our procedures, and all the distractions that has caused around this basketball program, coach Smith felt like it was best for the program, best for Marvin, that we put this to bed and release him," Ivy said. "He gets on with his life, we get on with life at the University of Kentucky."
Stating he had previously erred by citing a "policy" that did not exist in written form, Ivy said he should have explained that the school was following a "procedure" it had used for transfers since 1989.
"When we said this was per a 'policy' that we were following and had followed, I think that's where we probably misinformed you," he said. "We should have said this was a 'procedure' that we have been following.
"Had we had a chance to do it over again, we would have handled it better. That's why we're here clarifying it today."
The key to that procedure, he said, was that coaches had the first --- and main --- input in any transfer decision. In doing so, he responded to two examples of inconsistencies in the procedure addressed by the media. The first, a female volleyball player who transferred to UofL, was permitted to do so with the blessing of her coach, and partly due to the fact that she was a walk-on, Ivy said.
A more high-profile case was that of football player Donnell Gordon, who was granted his release in 1995 by then head coach Bill Curry.
"We've had several situations where students have asked to transfer to different institutions, and we've handled them all on an individual basis," Ivy said. "...Now in every sport, we have had exceptions to this procedure, and it's all based on what the head coach recommends to the athletics director. As I said in the case of Marvin Stone, coach Smith initially did not want him released to the institutions that we've talked about.
"From a competitive standpoint, we didn't want to have to play against Marvin at another institution. And we felt like from the standpoint of the team, we shouldn't have the players playing against him at another institution."
That, however, was in direct contrast to what Smith claimed during Thursday's edition of the SEC basketball coaches teleconference.
Said Smith: "What a coach does in my situation is say, `Well, fine with me. Let's release him.' But then the school makes a decision. `We have other sports, Tubby. You're part of the entire athletics program.'... I have people I answer to, as well."
Smith was unavailable for comment following Ivy's press conference. The UK coach had conducted his own regularly-scheduled press conference 90 minutes earlier to discuss the Cats' preparation for Saturday's game at South Carolina. The team was practicing at Memorial Coliseum during the Ivy event.
Despite the controversy, Ivy said the athletic department's "procedure" would not be put in writing. "It has worked so well for us for 12 years, and it gives us the flexibility we need in each case. If we put something in writing we may be handcuffing ourselves to not being able to handle it on an individual basis."
He also denied that the Louisville rivalry and the fact that former UK coach Rick Pitino is now on the Cardinals' bench had anything to do with the situation.
"From Day One, this was not a UK-UofL, UK-Rick Pitino situation," he said. "Had he wanted to go to IU, it would have been the same situation. Had he wanted to go to Notre Dame, it would be the same. We would never do anything here to try and purposely hurt coach Pitino and his program. He was a great friend of mine and a great friend of this program for eight years. We appreciate what he did here, and in no way from the outset was this a UK-UofL situation."
Stone, a much-maligned player since arriving at UK as a high school All-American out of Hunstville, Ala., had lost his sharting job with the Cats and seen his playing time dwindle prior to leaving the team. He had threatened legal action and retained a lawyer to help him fight UK's original decision on his transfer.