UK basketball coach John Calipari’s checklist for the week: Beat Lamar into the ground but not be happy about it…check (after the 86-64 win on December 28th, Calipari said he “wasn’t in a great frame of mind”). Next on the list: beat rival Louisville for a third straight time…check. Item #3…let’s see…stir up Big Blue Nation again with some off-the-cuff comments about breaking tradition…check.
Back in November, Calipari lit the fuse by asking fans on CoachCal.com (a website even he admits he never sees and would have trouble actually finding on the internet) to choose what traditional series they would want to drop: UofL, Indiana or UNC. Afterward, Calipari said he was just “creating dialogue.”
Now, Calipari is “creating more dialogue” by hinting that another tradition may come to an end if Big Blue Nation fails to come to the rescue. The annual game in Freedom Hall tonight could be the last the one there if ticket sales are below expectations.
Calipari says, “People have to come to it and make it something they want us to do.” What fans probably don’t want to do right after spending a lot of money over the holidays is go out on a Tuesday night and pay to see 2nd-ranked Kentucky play Arkansas-Little Rock (5-10) in a venue that even Louisville fans don’t miss.
“It’s hard to say, ‘get us UCLA in there,’ you just can’t,” said Calipari.
The UK coach was lamenting the fact that if this same game were in Lexington, 24,000 people would show up. Just stop it. Rupp Arena is a Mecca for UK fans and they’ll pay to see their Cats play almost anyone there.
The annual UK game at Freedom Hall has not been an overwhelming draw in the recent past (aside from the 20,000-plus that showed up for a matchup against Indiana back in the 2004-05 season). Calipari claims he wants to reach out to fans in Jefferson County and surrounding areas to give them a chance to see their Wildcats in person. Kentucky basketball is a solid brand but these days, it’s just not enough to try to convince your fans to shell out about $45 for a single ticket to see a UK play a sub-par team in Freedom Hall.
If Calipari and the Kentucky administration are serious about making this an event that appeals to fans in the Louisville-area, get serious with better scheduling. If the draw is so poor that UK feels it needs to cancel the annual game, it would be unfair for the athletic department to put the blame on the fans. Just because the school is paying a below-average team to make a weeknight trip to Freedom Hall doesn’t mean the fans will pay to make the trip, too.
Photo: John Lewis