Sometimes great victories can have unforeseen consequences.
I am used to receiving occasional reports of fan mistreatment both at Kentucky and other venues, so the recent spate of anecdotal evidence of over-the-top fan misbehavior at Saturday's game versus the Indiana Hoosiers is nothing new for me. For the most part, I take these reports with a grain of salt. Fans are fans, and drunken or abusive fans are present in every arena at every big game.
Unfortunately, when I read this piece over at Vaught's Views, I dropped my salt shaker. It's one thing to get a negative report from an anonymous fan on KSR, or from Anthony Wireman, or in various other fan sites around the Internet. But Larry Vaught is arguably the most respected reporter in Kentucky when it comes to the Wildcats. He is known as the dean of the Kentucky sports media for a reason.
The most disturbing part of the article, for me, came at the end, when Larry wrote:
I wish I could say she might be embellishing. But she’s not. I never heard the f-bomb dropped as much as I did at this game. To be fair, some Indiana officials warned students to quit using the word, but that was about as effective as me telling the rain to stop falling during a thunderstorm. Unless you were at the game, it’s hard to describe the animosity. I know I talked to the parent of one UK player who was stunned by the atmosphere inside the arena.
I am speaking for me only, but this was the most damning indictment of the environment at Assembly Hall that can be had. This is not a rabid Kentucky fan, blue in tooth and claw, speaking here. This is Larry Vaught of the Danville Advocate-Messenger, one of the most reasonable and honest men in all of sports media. His word may not be gospel to everyone, but trust me on this -- when he speaks, especially like this, he has my undivided attention. What this means to me is that this matter has now passed beyond the everyday anecdote of fan misbehavior into the realm of the disturbing, troubling, and downright unacceptable. This matter can no longer be brushed off or ignored.
The really worrisome question, and the one that nobody has asked, is what happens if UK wins that game on a bad call or a last-second shot? The prospect, considering the apparent mood of the crowd even in victory, is terrifying to imagine.
Fan behavior is always a sore spot with me, as you can see by our community guidelines, but to their great credit, every Indiana fan but one who commented on this blog after the game demonstrated nothing but the highest and most praiseworthy class. But when it comes to live arenas, everyone understands if there is some harsh language and some misbehavior due to passion and partisanship. Some of that should and must be overlooked and treated as a "heat of the moment" type thing.
Also, we have to be fair to Indiana in this case. IU has suffered through three miserable seasons since Kelvin Sampson guided the once-proud Hoosiers onto the shoals of NCAA lawlessness, and the recovery from that shipwreck has been long and painful. These are proud people we are talking about -- proud of their program and their school, and justifiably so.
But even if we make allowances for the enormity of the game, the passion of the resurgent Hoosier fans and the completely understandable pent-up frustration that was released on Saturday, this sort of misbehavior cannot be ignored or tolerated. I am quite certain UK will take notice of Larry Vaught. It is one thing to see me link a few tough stories and for KSR to post one, but Vaught brings a level of credibility to this issue that cannot be ignored by either the school or UK partisans.
I think, by these actions, it is no longer safe for us to hold a home-home series with the Hoosiers. I fear that UK fans may well retaliate for this event next year, or at least some bad apples might, and that's unacceptable. I know that neither IU nor UK wants to become Xavier or Cincinnati, and in light of that particular debacle, I hope both schools will consider moving the series back to neutral sites like Freedom Hall and Conseco Fieldhouse.
Let me be clear about one thing -- this has nothing to do with the Indiana team or the program. IU did not encourage or enable this behavior, and I do understand it was born out of years of frustration. My concern is that it was apparently so bad it won't be forgotten, and it could be the genesis of violence, however we may attempt to rationalize and justify it. This has nothing to do with the team or the state, or probably 95% of Hoosier or UK fans.
But the now-undeniable fact is, there were way too many fans, for whatever reason, acting the very fool in Bloomington last weekend, and it's time to go to neutral sites. Better to be safe than Xavier.