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Drama in the Bluegrass!

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By Keith Allison from Hanover, MD, USA – John Calipari, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36637946

My colleague from the athletic department has opinions:

“The reason is, this is a basketball school,” Calipari told reporters in the Bahamas. “It’s always been that. Alabama is a football school. So is Georgia. I mean, they are. No disrespect to our football team. I hope they win 10 games and go to bowls. At the end of the day, that makes my job easier and it makes the job of all of us easier. But this is a basketball school. And so we need to keep moving in that direction and keep doing what we’re doing.”

My other colleague in the athletic department was less than convinced:

The issue is question is whether the University of Kentucky will spend oodles of money on a new basketball practice facility. Mr. Stoops will make $6.5 million this year. Mr. Calipari makes $8 million. There are of course some ways in which Mr. Calipari is correct; Kentucky is known nationally for its basketball team much more than its football incarnation. However, Mr. Stoops is surely correct in his insinuation that the contribution of the basketball team in the last two years has been a 9-16 season and a first round exit from the NCAA tournament. The football team, as noted, has four straight bowl wins playing in the toughest conference in the country.

The other aspect that’s perhaps a touch less obvious to those who don’t live in the area is that the cultural footprint of football in Lexington and environs is much greater than you would imagine for “a basketball school.” It is true that everyone in Lexington watches the basketball team on TV, and especially that SEC games essentially command the social schedule for the week. However, football games in Lexington, as is the case across much of the South and the Midwest, are the primary social event of the week. Road games not so much (maybe people watch them, maybe they don’t who cares), but home games are an event in the city in ways that basketball cannot replicate. Reasons for this include the much greater accessibility of football (bigger stadium, cheaper seats), a culture of tailgating (starts at dawn on gameday and ends sometime after dusk, with huge crowds that are often pretty indifferent to the game), and frequency (handful of home games, usually against very strong opponents, compared to 2-3x as many basketball games against less proficient foes).

Long story short, despite the fact that Kentucky is a “basketball school,” the social and cultural impact of football is as big or bigger even in humble Lexington. It’s of course difficult for a university administration to sort through the claims of all the relevant stakeholders, but football is incredibly important to the community even when the team isn’t winning. Moreover, the downside of shorting investment in football while playing in the SEC is a team that goes 2-11 and loses by 60 at home to Georgia and Alabama and Florida and Tennessee. In any case, I hope that my two colleagues each with a salary many multiples of my own can sort through their issues and provide me with the sporting entertainment I so very richly deserve.

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