Fools Gold; UK’s New Scheduling Plan Bad for Fans, Bad for College Basketball
Somewhere between March 2009 and this morning, “Anyone, anywhere, anytime” became “who we want, when we want, where we want.” I read what’s being called John Calipari’s Scheduling Manifesto before I left the house this morning. And it wasn’t a great way to start the day.
In the first sentence Cal says Kentucky is “not a traditional program.” Really? Like or not, Kentucky is nothing if not traditional. Kentucky is one of five or six of the greatest programs in the history of the sport with UCLA, Kansas, North Carolina and maybe Indiana (sorry Duke, I need more than one good coach out of you). Tradition is what built the program into the one that Cal came to. Was the program down a little when he got here? Yes, but it was still Kentucky. Kentucky built the Craft center, not one coach. Kentucky hung seven banners at Rupp Arena before 2009.
Kentucky may do things in a non-traditional way, and Cal says as much in the Manifesto, but that doesn’t mean Kentucky isn’t a program built on tradition.
Cal talks about how Kentucky is facing things no other program has faced in its regular, wholesale roster turnover. That model is one Kentucky has chosen to adopt, and I have said time and time again on First State Financial Sunday Morning Sports Talk (9 am-Noon on NewsRadio 630 WLAP and wlap.com) that I have no problem with it. Go get the best players you can find. If they are ready to and wish to move on to professional basketball after a season, then good for them. However, that’s a problem made by choice at Kentucky. It shouldn’t be allowed as a reason (hell, HAILED as a reason by some judging from the comments at the bottom of the manifesto) to trash tradition and kick rivalries to the curb.
And make no mistake about it; rivalries are a thing of the past. The Manifesto is clear about that. In part one of the Manifesto, which is titled “Preparing our Players for the Postseason,” Cal explains that we will no longer have multiple contracts of longer than two years. In section two (titled “The Fans,” who in the Manifesto’s second paragraph have already been told that they HAVE TO accept whatever follows); Cal asks “Why eliminate the opportunity to add a new home-and-home series to our schedule every two years? Here’s why. It builds NOTHING.
Maybe it’s great for TV, I have no idea. Maybe ESPN or CBS or whoever is dying to get UK versus a new whoever every couple of years. But it doesn’t build the kind of excitement in the arena that people raved about after the North Carolina game or the Indiana game last year. The only thing that builds that is familiarity.
Maybe we can play an endless revolving door of whoevers in whatever cavernous arenas make ESPN and the universities the most money. In the Manifesto Cal says that the NCAA Tournament is in neutral sites in football stadiums, so “Why not prepare for that?” Well, because basketball games in football arenas are awful, that’s why. The NCAA Plays the Final Four in cavernous football stadiums on raised courts in worship of the almighty dollar. And you know who likes it? The winning team and their fans, that’s it. Neutral site games in football stadiums are losers for everybody EXCEPT University coffers. Let’s not pretend they’re some amazing experience for fans.
Somehow in the “Our Fans” section, Cal claims that this new scheduling model somehow benefits UK fans who can’t afford to get into games at Rupp. I guess those same fans who can’t afford to scalp a ticket and drive to Lexington can suddenly afford air fare, hotels and tickets in New York City. Oh I forgot, we’ll apparently spend our vacation money, our rent money and our cigarette money to travel to neutral site games.
To be fair, Cal references that there will be a marquis game in Rupp Arena each year, but gives us no idea who it is. If that’s the case, then why couldn’t it have been Indiana? We know that in 2013 it will be Louisville (although I don’t love the wording in the Cal’s Louisville reference in the Manifesto. It makes me more than a little concerned that that series could go by the wayside again as well). And how are you going to schedule that without a return trip to their place? For example, all indications from North Carolina have been that they have no interest in a UK game at a neutral site. If you’re not going to play at a marquis school, they likely aren’t coming here. Why would they?
Early in the Manifesto Cal rolls out one of his favorite phrases, calling the new model “The Gold Standard.” Well, as far as I’m concerned the “Gold Standard” isn’t trashing tradition. The “Gold Standard” isn’t forcing your fans to shell out huge dollars on travel to see a halfway decent game live. The “Gold Standard” isn’t telling people who have supported this program for their entire lives — not just when they got a lucrative contract to tell everybody how great it was before changing everything — that they just have to learn to accept whatever you shove down their throats.
Cal does a lot of great things. I thought the trophy tour was exceptional. But more and more, those great things seem like bread crumb marketing ploys to soften up the fan base for the gut punch that’s coming behind them. No Indiana? No North Carolina? No problem. Come to Brooklyn and watch us play Maryland.
And even if I didn’t think this scheduling plan was a severe disappointment for fans, as one of the sport’s traditional powers, Kentucky has a responsibility to the sport. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed or not, but nationally college basketball is NOT on the rise. Scrapping big-time traditional rivalries in favor of what — meaningless intersectional games against Texas, Syracuse? — can’t possibly help.
Of course, if you’ve read the Manifesto – and it’s likely you have – you know that you’ve also been told to ignore everything I’ve written, because of course since I disagree, I have an agenda. Well, if thinking that college team should play in uniforms of its school colors in its arena against other colleges in their school colors in their area is an agenda, then I have one. And I am 100% fine with it.