Take it for what it’s worth. In a CBSSports.com survey based on anonymous comments from college coaches, Florida coach Billy Donovan ranked second as the coach who can best “bend but not break the rules.”
Who was first? No surprise, Kentucky coach John Calipari. Others on the list included Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, Arizona’s Sean Miller, North Carolina’s Roy Williams, and Michigan State’s Tom Izzo. That’s a pretty heavy hitting lineup, one that, including Donovan, has combined for 11 national titles.
One anonymous source cited Donovan’s Elite Camps, which he holds for incoming recruits in early August, as an example of finding loopholes in the system. “Billy is, or at least he used to be, the best,” an anonymous source told CBSSports.com. “He’s the one who came up with the idea of elite camps. He’s just really smart. He knows how to get things done.”
CBSSports.com’s Gary Parrish first brought up the subject of Elite Camps in 2008, quoting Donovan. Parrish implied in the story a wink-wink agreement in which an AAU coach receives a speaking fee, then turns around and uses some of that money to fund travel expenses for his top prospects to visit a campus. “You say, ‘Listen, what are some creative ways to get some guys on campus?’” Donovan said in the story. “Either you are allowed to do something or you are not allowed to do something, and if you are allowed to do it then it just comes down to your own personal judgment of whether you want to do it or not. But it’s all just people trying to be creative.”
Donovan dealt with accusations of cheating early in his UF tenure, ranging from former South Carolina/Vanderbilt coach Eddie Fogler to Kansans-turned-North Carolina coach Williams to Stanford-turned-California coach Mike Montgomery. All were unfounded. An NCAA inquiry in 2001, similar to what the Tennessee basketball program went through before it ultimately fired Bruce Pearl, revealed only secondary violations.
Based on a public record request I filed and received, Florida has reported 15 secondary violations in men’s basketball between 2003-11. Most were minor infractions. The most serious involved a player receiving $2,000 in benefits from his former eighth and ninth-grade AAU coach. The player, whose name was redacted in the report, was disassociated from the program (the violation was reported Jan. 7, 2005, but I was told it involved a player who was on the team before I started covering the Gators in 2003).
The facts suggest that Donovan is a coach who bends the margins, but doesn’t break them. Recruiting is competitive at the Division I level, and all coaches are looking for an edge.