We’re halfway through a new week, but the fallout from Saturday’s disappointing loss to Western Kentucky can still be felt. People on radio airwaves and message boards alike have been trying to think of some conclusion that ends with UK being successful in football. Some remain skeptical it will ever happen and have made the point that this is a “basketball school,” that’s all we’ll ever be, and we should accept it.
We all know basketball moves the needle in the Bluegrass. That’s no secret. But is it really a case of basketball being that much more popular than football?
To me, it’s simply easier to be a UK basketball fan. There’s a lot more positive news out there, and casual sports fans are always ready to jump on a bandwagon. The Cats’ return to national champion status has underscored that.
When a team is good, you will have many more fans supporting your team than when you are not good. Seems obvious enough, right?
Insert Kentucky football, and there you have it. UK has rarely had a good football team. Sure, one year we got ranked in the Top 10, but that only lasted a week. UK football fans have been beaten down to the point that casual fans either don’t even know who we are playing next week, or they just attend tailgates and games for the social occasion. Yes, there are hardcores like you and me out there, but most of them just aren’t.
There point here is this: UK can be a football and basketball school. Football brings in the revenue for the University anyway, and would not steal any bit of the spotlight from UK basketball. Basketball will always be ingrained in our souls. Sure, maybe some basketball fans would miss some basketball games early in the season if UK had big games going on, but if UK basketball is still good, you can always expect a full house on nights when UK is playing at home.
Still, UK would have no problem attracting people to games if they were successful. Do you really think that if UK were playing in the SEC Championship in football that we would not fill half of the Georgia Dome up just because maybe UK basketball had a game against Northwestern State the day before? Absolutely not! Fans would travel by the tens of thousands to see it. Why? Because people want to be a part of that success.
The truth is there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of potential UK football fans out there. Many of them have grown apathetic and chose to either root for other teams, or just stop following UK football because of years of heartache. How do you get them to grow out of their apathy and support the program again? The answer is obvious – Win.
I’m tired of the excuse that we are a “basketball school.” We’re a basketball school because we win, plain and simple. Trust me, if there was never positive news to report about basketball, UK would lose fans by the hundreds of thousands, and it would be reduced to the hardcores, just like it is for football. It may hurt to say, but most younger, casual fans really could care less about the tradition. I know a guy who is a huge UK fan, and he could not tell you who “The Unforgettables” were. That still doesn’t mean he isn’t a fan.
There’s a reason Billy Gillispie was fired so quickly. Frankly, he was given the keys to a Ferrari, and he blew out the transmission, wrecked it in to a tree, and tried spray painting over the damage. There’s also a reason why Mitch Barnhart will struggle with the decision to fire Joker Phillips. He knows the administration did not put Joker, or Rich Brooks for that matter, in the best possible situation to compete against the SEC. Frankly, UK does not have the facilities or recruiting budget that all the other coaches in the SEC have to work with. When you are already beset by an apathetic fan base and a small recruiting base, there aren’t many places to go.
It’s kind of like bringing a knife to a gun fight, then firing your guy because he didn’t survive. Maybe he could have done a better job with those knives, but in the end, his competition was still packing heat and you weren’t.
There is room here at UK for a successful football and basketball program. There are football hardcores out there that would die for a successful football program. There are basketball hardcores that would certainly enjoy having something to cheer for before October 15th, and certainly would not mind cheering through November, and maybe taking a trip to a warmer climate at the beginning of January, just before SEC season gets started.
How about this? How about the next time we have to fire a coach, we make sure we can say, with a clear conscience, “We have given this coach every advantage that any other SEC coach enjoys that we could possibly provide, and we still have not seen results.”
Let’s not have to fire coaches for expecting a high amount of return on what little resources we have given them.