CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -Kentucky, West Virginia and several other schools plan an early start on Midnight Madness by taking advantage of an NCAA practice rule.
The official opening of practice for the 2008-09 season is Oct. 17, but the NCAA has allowed two hours of team workouts per week since mid-September.
National Association of Basketball Coaches spokesman Rick Leddy said the intent of the rule was for coaches to work on skill development, not to raise the rafters.
But that's exactly what's going to happen.
West Virginia's basketball office decided to ring in the upcoming season with a fan-oriented event Friday night as part of the football team's homecoming weekend. The football team already has four home games scheduled in a five-week span with a bye weekend Oct. 18.
``We thought this was the best thing for our basketball program and the fans,'' WVU basketball spokesman Bryan Messerly said. ``It would be hard to ask Mountaineer fans who drive long distances to come five straight weeks to Morgantown.''
za and T-shirt giveaways to fans, a slam-dunk contest, scrimmages and a two-ball competition between the men's and women's teams.
While West Virginia typically draws only a few thousand fans for the event, Kentucky's Big Blue Madness at Rupp Arena has attracted more than 23,000 fans in each of the last three years.
``Everybody in the country could have done the same thing,'' Kentucky basketball spokesman DeWayne Peevy said. ``It didn't cause any problems for us here. If there was a rule in place that prevented us from doing it, we wouldn't have had a problem in abiding by that.''
In Champaign, Ill., the men's and women's basketball teams will head onto a court set up behind one of the end zones Saturday at Memorial Stadium after the conclusion of Illinois' game with Minnesota. The basketball practice, to be held on a donated court, will be canceled if it rains.
``This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our players to be on this type of stage,'' Illinois basketball coach Bruce Weber said.
And Marshall coach Donnie Jones decided to hold the first basketball practice Saturday night during a bye week for the football team.
The schools checked with the NCAA first to see whether the early practice was allowed, which it was. But the NABC fears a perception that the schools are trying to skirt the rule's intent.
program and see it and then it turns into a recruiting tool. If schools have it earlier, is that an advantage?'' Leddy said. ``There's a lot of ways to look at it and all we're trying to do is protect the integrity of the rule and the intent of the rule change.
``We don't want to hurt further (NCAA) legislation in trying to have coaches have more access to their players.''
The NABC stopped short of asking the schools from holding the week-early events.
``We didn't do any arm twisting,'' Leddy said.
NCAA spokesman Erik Christianson didn't immediately return a telephone message Thursday.
Unlike West Virginia, Kentucky decided to keep its first practice separate from football's homecoming weekend. After all, basketball is king in Lexington.
``For Kentucky's sake, we were just looking at an opportunity to highlight our program,'' Peevy said. ``It was a better weekend for us. We just moved our Big Blue Madness up a week.''

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