Packing checklist for a trip to Lexington, KY for Keeneland and Kentucky Wildcats games!Read More
I originally wrote this post in October 2015, but it feels as relevant today as it did then. I'm a UK fan, but I'm not cheering the sanctions that the NCAA handed U of L this week. I wish we could find a way to fix the game that I love.
Like most Kentuckians, I have a little bit of a college basketball problem. I'm really, really obsessed with my team, the sport, and basically everything else surrounding the process. I spend a whole lot of time worrying about recruiting and injuries and all of the other pieces of the college basketball puzzle. Over the past few years, in the wake of investigations and scandals, I've come to a sad realization about the sport I love so very much: College Basketball is broken.
Now, I've tried really hard to not immerse myself in the tawdry details of the current goings on at the University of Louisville. The truth is, this story is more sad than salacious. Louisville escort Katina Powell's story is not funny, or sexy, or fascinating, it's the story of a sex worker who introduced her potentially underage daughters into prostitution in exchange for college basketball recruiting. Very young women were, Ms. Powell's story goes, paid to entice very young men in an effort to sway a college basketball commitment. That is, quite simply, a depressing, disgusting, and somewhat Dickensian proposition.
As a Kentuckian and a basketball fan, I don't want this tale to be true; in fact, I don't want this circus to be happening at all. I'm a UK fan, and a UK fan only -- no offense, Cards friends, it's not personal that I don't cheer for y'all; I don't cheer for anybody but my 'Cats -- and, yet, I still desperately want the Katina Powell story to just go away. It speaks badly of the city I call home. It speaks badly of the Commonwealth I love. And, it speaks badly of the sport over which I obsess and the coach whom I once revered.
The truth is, a lot of things are wrong in college athletics. Every season, we hear about recruiting violations and scandals and we get a little more immune to it all. Everybody does it, we read in the comments of the articles, these guys just got caught. The U of L basketball program will suffer some severe sanctions in light of these revelations, but within moments of ESPN's confirmation of Ms. Powell's claims, legalistic arguments of strict liability replaced the lurid details. The story became about Coach Rick Pitino's culpability, and about how much he knew about these proceedings. There was a rush to place all blame firmly at the feet of former U of L staffer Andre McGee. But, the problem is far bigger than what McGee did or what Pitino saw. The problem is that the system is broken.
The system is broken because we think nothing of casual sexism. The U of L saga tells the story of giving women as rewards and incentives. We find ourselves making distinctions like "oh, boys will be boys; if it's just strippers, it's no problem. If they paid those girls for something else, it's a bigger issue." We laugh off the "girls" as a perk of playing ball. And, more dangerously, we point our fingers at the accusers. The Pitino regime sits on the precedent that Karen Sypher was scamming the program, and it's become easy for sympathetic local media sources to frame Ms. Powell in a disgusting tableau of slut-shaming and victim-blaming. (See, if you care to, Billy Reed's egregious piece about the "book-writing prostitute." Or don't. I suggest that you don't.)
The system is broken because of the archaic and draconian rule of the NCAA. In a world where increasingly high-performing athletes are in high demand, the governing body of college sports seems increasingly outdated. For every rule change that seems designed to increase the quality of play, it seems there are ten regulating minute rules. A creative network has arisen around skirting these regulations -- from the frequently ridiculed "You can give a recruit a juice, but not a muffin at certain events" rules to far more substantive rules. We live in a culture where it seems a slippery slope exists between giving a recruit a second helping of breakfast and setting him up for a lap dance. Perhaps it's time for an overhaul of the regulating body.
And, perhaps most importantly of all, the system is broken because of a fundamental refusal to acknowledge the true nature of college sports. College basketball is a game of recruiting and a forming a pipeline to the NBA. Recruits are already tied into sneaker companies' networks through their AAU affiliations. College basketball is a multimillion dollar enterprise, and we somehow find a reason to divert profits away from the very participants whose hard work and, at times, physical wellbeing are the foundation of the game. College athletes are no longer boys who play a little ball whilst earning an education. They are a high-profile, high-earning potential commodity, and yet NCAA steadfastly refuses to acknowledge that student-athletes deserve a cut of the earnings. As fans, we willfully buy into the idea that our student-athletes are at particular schools for both the athletic and academic experiences. It's time to acknowledge the economic reality of college athletes, provide these athletes with a realistic financial stipend, and treat them as what they are -- employees of their universities.
The U of L scandal will blow over, or it won't. Coach Pitino will weather the storm, or he won't. And, in a few months, the sports media will move on to a newer, more salacious scandal. The fact remains that the sport is broken. But, those of us who love basketball keep loving the game and hoping for real change.
The first meeting of the Cards and the Cats.Read More
Tonight, the University of Kentucky Men's Basketball Team takes the court against the Duke Blue Devils. For many of us, this is a game fueled by intense rivalry, which makes it rather surprising that this will only be the twenty-first time the teams have met over the span of eighty-five years.
As we count down to tip-off, here are a few must-know trivia tidbits to fuel your #BBN obsession. Go Big Blue!
1. The Kentucky-Duke rivalry spreads over eighty-five years. The teams first met in March 1930 in Atlanta, at the semifinals of the Southern Conference Tournament.Duke won that game, 37-32. (Duke went on to lose to Alabama in the finals.)
2. The teams have met twenty times: Kentucky has won 11 of those games, while Duke has won 9.
3. The record for most points scored by a single player in a Duke-Kentucky game is held by UK legend Jack "Goose" Givens in the 1978 National Championship Game. Givens scored 41 points, including 18 fields goal.
4. Kentucky holds 8 National Championship Titles; Duke has 5.
5. The 1992 East Regional Final game is remembered by most Kentucky fans as perhaps the most painful loss to Duke. The 104-103 overtime Blue Devils win included Christian Laettner's memorable technical foul against Aminu Timberlake and that last shot -- you know the one, because the Worldwide Leader shows it a thousand times every spring -- well, you know how it ended.
Tonight's the night, BBN. Big Blue Madness, our first glimpse at the 2016 Wildcats. The greatest recruiting tool in college basketball, where we've learned over the years that Drake is a 'Cats Fan, and that at least one Miss America bleeds blue and where we've seen Coach Pitino on a Harley, Mr. Keightley jump out of a cake, and as many sick dance moves as Coach Mitchell cares to lay down. In honor of tonight's event, here's some Big Blue Madness Trivia for y'all.
- The first Kentucky Wildcats late night practice was held on October 15, 1982. Although UK Coach Joe B. Hall was not the first coach to hold an open scrimmage or practice to kick off basketball season, his "Midnight Special" is credited with popularizing the custom.
- Big Blue Madness was held in Memorial Coliseum from 1982-2004 and was moved to Rupp Arena in 2005.
- Although the free event welcomes thousands of Wildcats super-fans, the unofficial guests of honor are always high schoolers. The blue chip recruits whom we hope to sway toward the Big Blue Nation are conspicuously in attendance. The day after the 1991 Big Blue Madness, all four recruits in attendance -- Rodrick Rhodes, Jared Prickett, Tony Delk, and Walter McCarty -- verbally committed to UK.
- Some of the celebrities who've attended Big Blue Madness include Drake, Secretariat owner Penny Chenery, Miss America Heather French, and, of course, Ashley Judd.
- The 2002 Big Blue Madness celebrated the 100th anniversary of Kentucky Basketball. A giant birthday cake was brought to center court prior to the player introductions, with Mr. Wildcat, Bill Keightley, stealing the show by jumping out of the cake.
- When it became clear that the Internet was here to stay, tickets to BBM became even harder to acquire. The 2000 Big Blue Madness market the first time that tickets were available for online purchase; all 700 were distributed in 13 minutes. The remaining 8,000 were gone in 10 minutes to those waiting in line.
- In 1995, seniors Tony Delk and Walter McCarty made their grand appearance as "Cat"man and Robin.
- And, of course, in 2012, this happened. And it was the best.
The KY Kernel has a great rundown of this year's 'Cats. I don't know about y'all, but I sure am excited to meet them!
Go Big Blue!!!
Here in Kentucky, March Madness doesn't just mean the college basketball tournament. We take our high school basketball games pretty darned seriously, too. In honor of the KHSAA Sweet Sixteen, here's some tournament trivia. Did you know that:
- The first statewide championship high school boys' basketball game was played in 1917; Owensboro defeated Somerset 12-9 in that matchup.
- Two teams hold the record for most Sweet Sixteen titles. Lexington's Henry Clay and Lafayette High Schools hold six titles, respectively.
- The venue for the first two Championship games was Centre College in Danville.
- The Kentucky High School Athletic Association holds the trademark for the phrase Sweet Sixteen.
- In a story worthy of a feel-good sports film, Simon Kenton High School won the 1981 Sweet Sixteen just a few months after the high school building was destroyed in a tragic explosion.
- Kentucky's Sweet Sixteen is one of only three high school basketball tournaments without a class system dividing small schools and larger schools into separate championships. (The other two states are Hawaii and Delaware.)
- Two players have been named Sweet Sixteen Most Valuable Player for two consecutive years. These honors went to Richie Farmer of Clay County in 1987 and 1988 and to Jermaine Brown of Fairdale in 1990 and 1991.
- The 1963 State Champion Seneca Red Hawk team boasted future Boston Celtic Mike Redd and future Washington Bullet Wes Unseld. Diane Sawyer was a member of Seneca's cheerleading squad that year.
Good Morning, Big Blue Nation!
Whether you were out too late in the Gulch or SoBro celebrating the Wildcats' win or simply enjoying the other SEC games at Bridgestone Arena, chances are, you had an exciting night. Now, you sure could use some breakfast. Here are a few of my Music City favorites.
If you don't want to move your car, 417 Union is the way to go. We discovered this little gem during one of the Cats' Music City Bowl appearances. It's open at 7, you can probably walk there from your hotel, and you'll get a good, hearty meal without a huge crowd or a lot of pretension. Think: a really good version of your hometown diner.
If you want to drive all the way across town, the Loveless Cafe is calling your name. There's a reason that this motel-turned-diner is a quintessential Nashville Must-See. The food is, quite simply, that good. Try to rustle up a party of four for the all-you-can-eat breakfast, and don't miss the biscuits, country ham, or hash brown casserole!
If you want to stand in line with Vandy students, tourists, and everybody else under the sun, don't miss the Pancake Pantry. The food is fantastic, don't get me wrong. I particularly love the French toast and the sweet potato pancakes. But, weekend lines often reach Disney World proportions, and you may just miss the game while you're waiting on your carb fix.
If you want to have a great brunch experience, walk across the street from Pancake Pantry to Provence. There, you'll find amazing food, an unbelievable dessert selection, and the best cup of coffee in town. (Always, always order the Dancing Goats coffee. I could write a love sonnet to that blend.)
If you want to feel artsy, head over to East Nashville's Marche Artisan Foods. The food is incredible. The atmosphere is laid-back. And even the simplest fare -- a PB&J or a cup of hot chocolate -- is transformed into a work of art.
Finally, if you want to make me extra jealous, make plans for Sunday Chicken & Waffles at Hattie B's. The hot chicken is amazing, and I hear that, on Sundays, they serve it up with waffles and PBR. You really can't miss that.
Enjoy your breakfast and your visit to NashVegas! Go Cats!!