Bluegrass Bluenose

I have been called a jealous hater.

I have been called an asswipe.

I have been called a dickweed.

All true … all true.

But I maintain this: I don’t understand how Kentucky basketball fans get any true pleasure out of the modern basketball team. Oh, I get it. You win. And win. And win. You cut down nets and sport commemorative caps and hold parades. Your coach is famous, your arena is classic, your games sell out.

And yet … so what? So friggin’ what? The young men who suit up for the University of Kentucky aren’t doing so because they love your state, or your traditions, or your citizens. Oh, they might pay lip service to such … might even develop some genuine affection. But (with rare excepion) they’re there to reach the NBA—ASAP. That’s it, that’s all. Which, of course, is within the NCAA rules and regulations. But where is the satisfaction? The sense of accomplishment? The sense of … “Us”?

Back when I was at the University of Delaware, members of the basketball team were our peers. They went to classes, went to parties, could be found in the Scrounge eating lunch and kicking back in the sun out on the mall. They were, quite literally, student-athletes; ones who would stick around for four years. Their accomplishments were our accomplishments, because they went through the exact same experiences. Plus, their ultimate objective was our ultimate objective—to graduate. To earn a degree.

From the folks who’ve reached out to me via Twitter, it seems as if Kentucky has one singular goal—victory. Which, on the surface, makes sense. Who wants to lose? Who doesn’t want a national title? Who doesn’t want to burn automobiles in the street—oh, wait. That was a slip. Who doesn’t want to win?

What I want, dearly, is for a Kentucky fan to explain this to me: If the players have no interest in graduating, and if they come for but a single year, and if they are students only because they have to be students, and if they’re only at your school because it offers the best chance at NBA glory … well, where’s the sense of community and accomplishment? I know … I know—”We love our guys! They’re Wildcats for life! Blah, blah, blah.”

It just doesn’t seem … real.

But I’ll keep an open mind. Really. Tell me what I’m missing.

9 thoughts on “Bluegrass Bluenose”

  1. I’m not a Kentucky fan, and I both agree and disagree with you.

    I’m 47, but went back to college, and I attend a Division 3 school. I would describe our (non-scholarship, not going pro) athletes similarly to how you describe Delaware. They’re in class. They’re in the dining hall. I know kids from both our men’s and women’s hoops teams, both lacrosse teams, and the men’s hockey team. They truly are STUDENT-athletes. Division 3 is like that–and Delaware, though Division I, isn’t a factory.

    Is that a lot different from Kentucky? Sure. However, rooting for Kentucky is a lot similar to something else–rooting for a pro team. And because most of us have grown up with free agency in the major pro sports–I was 10 when my beloved Bobby Orr came back to town in a freakin’ Black Hawks jersey–we’re used to, basically, rooting for laundry.

    When the laundry represents your *school*? That’s even another level.

    There’s another thing. I’m in MA. If I wore one of my school hoodies on vacation in Kentucky, nobody would recognize the name of my school (unless they know Chicago Bulls’ coach Tom Thibodeau’s alma mater; he’s our one athletic success ever :)) However, a Kentucky student wearing a hoodie in MA? We know the school. Why? Sports.

  2. I am a senior at UK and a life long Cats fan. I understand what you are saying in this piece. I understand that these players are coming here for a boost to the NBA and couldn’t care less about the state of Kentucky or the university. I am not an idiot. I get it. BUT (as cliche as this phrase has become) that is the state of college basketball today. There is nothing I can do about it. As of yet, Mark Emmert and David Stern have not called me to ask my opinions on the one-and-done rule, or how to boost GPAs and graduation rates. So here is my question for you, Jeff. What would you have me do? Should I turn my back on the program that has meant so much to me and my family? A program that has given me some of the most incredible highs (Monday night) and terrible lows (’92 Duke, ’04 UAB) of my life. A program that my grandparents used to go see in Alumni Gym when they were students here in the 1940s (my grandmother had some funny stories about Alex Groza and the Fab Five). A program that my parents used to go see in Memorial Gym when they were students here in the 1970s. A program that I have followed, and watched, and talked about since before I can remember. No, I don’t think I can turn my back on that. I am a fan, as fabulous and frustrating as that is. I love the University of Kentucky and its basketball program. And I will continue to love it. And I will continue to love anyone who, however briefly, decides to put on the Blue and White and represent our team in a positive light.

  3. Look, it’s not 1955. It’s not fair to assign some higher purpose to college athletics, just because the NCAA disingenuously tries to pass off some noble ideal of “amateurism,” when they’re now controlled by money as much as pro sports.

    Sorry if that bugs you, but that ship sailed a while ago.

    You’re a Jets fan. Do you feel like you have to have a “sense of community and accomplishment” in order to root for them?

    At the end of the day, Kentucky hoops fans are rooting for laundry, just as fans of the Red Sox or Lakers or Calgary Flames do. And that’s fine.

    It’s arrogant (with a hint of “Smug Northerner who forgets that not every area of the country is awash in major league teams”) to ask for some higher level of integrity from Kentucky hoops fans than you would for fans of a pro team.

    They’re rooting for a team because they like the team. It’s okay. In most cases, there’s nothing deeper to it…relax, man.

    (On a slightly related note: At least big-time programs make money for their schools. How do you feel about the amount of money dumped into nonrevenue sports? I used to work in the athletic department of a SUNY school, and the dept. lost millions and millions of dollars (your tax money, remember) every year.

    Does it bug you when the Herkimer Community College women’s soccer team flies down to Orlando to play three games in seven nights, and spends (your) money on tickets to Universal Studios and meals at the Hard Rock Cafe while they’re there? Or that when the Albany track team wins the conference championship, all 105 players or coaches on the team get a $250 ring?

    Not trying to be antagonistic…just truly curious.)

    Anyway, keep up the good work, man.

  4. Couldn’t agree with you more. It’ll never happen, but in an ideal world, I think the other sports would be more like hockey (in this one respect, hockey has lots of problems too).

    Hockey has a “junior” system, where young players go and develop skills before being eligible for the NHL draft. For those that want an education, they can go to the NCAA, but for those that just want to go to a “hockey factory” they can go play junior and not even pretend to care about school.

    And for those that don’t make the NHL, the junior leagues pay for one year of Canadian college for each year you played in junior (after your junior career is over).

  5. Also, let’s not pretend that if a Delaware basketball player were projected to go #1 in the NBA draft that he wouldn’t leave school. Delaware players aren’t morally superior to those at UK. They’re just not as good at basketball.

  6. Why force anyone to pose as a college student for some arbitrary period of time? If a player is talented enough to compete on the professional level, he should be able to do so as long as he is of legal working age. Want to turn down the volume on debates about one-and-dones or compensating the athletes for the revenue they generate for their institutions? Turn college sports back into the circuit for those not yet good enough to play for money.

    1. What, you think it’s only sports? Check out the classified ads lately, and see the crap nothing jobs that require a college degree. No, I don’t really need a bachelor’s to answer freakin’ phones, but the people who hire seem to think I do. We’re not quite at the level that you need a degree to flip burgers, but we’re getting there.

      So, yeah, if you’re going to make gazillions of dollars playing with a ball? Get a friggin’ degree and learn something first. I’d make it a requirement–1 year isn’t enough. No degree? Ineligible for the draft.

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