The Thing That Should Not Be: Kentucky's Football Program and the Elephant in the Room

USA Today Sports

This is one heck of a day, isn't it? We finally landed Drew Barker, our sought-after QB prospect from the Commonwealth. It may be raining where I live, but it's not raining in my heart.

Over the course of the last couple of hours, I have sought out reactions from within the Big Blue Nation and from outsiders, gaging their opinions on the Drew Barker commitment. The response from outsiders was a mixture of "Is UK football about to make a revival?" and "UK football could sign all of the talent in the country and still finish last in the SEC." Not really all that surprising. Until UK football wins on a consistent basis, it will always be perceived as a doormat worth making fun of. This is why we hired Stoops, after all. We're all tired of the football program being perceived this way. We want them to be an SEC contender. Stoops is exactly the kind of guy that can lead us to respectability and even contending for titles

The response from UK fans and journalists alike were filled with enthusiasm and excitement, as we were able to take a prized QB away from the Ol' Ball Coach himself. This is seen as a major coup for the Wildcats football program, as we were able to beat out SEC teams (especially teams that compete for, at the very least, division titles) for SEC-worthy talent. This wasn't just a commitment that will strengthen our team significantly over the next five years. It was a statement. UK football is tired of being the running joke, something that the jokesters of the sports world can fall back on when they need safe material.

In the Drew Barker celebration thread, I commented that the game was finally changing, and that the football program, long derided and seen as a joke compared to the basketball team, was about to break out and, if not reach the lofty standards of the basketball program, at least come close to it. This sparked a discussion about how the football program is perceived and treated, and this brought up an interesting comment from Dana Stinson:

This is simply NOT a competition between basketball and football.

It is (we) basketball and (we) football. This is NOT, I repeat, split loyalty.

I think that this SHOULD be the case. We all should care about UK football as much as we do about basketball. If we're truly some of the best fans in all of sports, then we shouldn't just hold basketball on a pedestal and leave football behind in the dust. Mark Stoops will, undoubtedly, play a large role in improving the standing of the UK football program to outsiders and to skeptical UK fans, and it's my hope that we'll all laugh at the times when the football program was treated as a "little brother" to the powerhouse that is UK basketball.

But we can't kid ourselves and act as if there aren't UK fans out there that treat football like a "little brother" themselves. After all, UK basketball is one of the most storied traditions in all of college sports. Even if we don't feel that it should overshadow the other UK sports, to many, it does. And that's where the "elephant in the room" comes in. UK football, beyond a couple of nice eras here and there, has been seen as a punchline to a not particularly funny joke. I have seen UK fans treat them as jokes themselves. I've seen UK fans who only root for the basketball teams because "they win". My mother, my own mother, is a basketball fan first...and that's it. She tends to not follow the football team that much, even after the Stoops hiring.

I wish I could say that my mom is just an outlier, a small minority, but that's not the case. In the eyes of some of the members of BBN (not all, but some), UK basketball will always be king, and everything else will come second, no matter what. One of the long-running jokes I always see when people make fun of the football team is that UK football is a distraction meant to keep fans at bay until basketball season starts. Should this be the case? Absolutely not. Is this the case? Not for everyone, and certainly not for me, but for some? It's a very real possibility. I don't necessarily see it as "split loyalty". I see it more as a case of dominance vs. indifference. It can be tough to root for a team that is commonly mediocre when you have another team under the same umbrella that is consistently among the nation's top teams. UK basketball is a tradition unlike any other. UK football, comparatively, has little tradition.

That's why I was so excited about the Stoops hiring. In Stoops, Mitch Barnhart was hiring a man that refused to sit back and become part of the joke. He wants to make the joke obsolete. He wants to give us that tradition we've been sorely lacking. And it's hard to say that he's not doing a good job of trying to do so. Since his hiring, Kentucky football has landed six four-star recruits for 2013, according to ESPN's rankings, and, according to Rivals, a top 20 ranking for 2014 already, including three 4-star recruits. According to Rivals, UK football has a higher 2014 class ranking than Auburn, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas State, USC, and Wisconsin, and they are only two spots below Georgia. This is not your father's UK football program.

Mark Stoops is dedicated to turning the frowns of UK football fans upside down, and he has his eyes set on turning even the staunchest of skeptics into optimists. Stoops wants to change the culture at UK. He doesn't want us to be a basketball school. He wants UK to be a school that has a great basketball program AND a great football program. And shouldn't all UK fans want the same thing? Who says that we can (or perhaps even should) only have one or the other? Florida has had a nice football tradition over the years, and their basketball tradition is building. Ohio State has both. It can be done. And Kentucky wants both.

I wasn't trying to argue in that discussion that UK fans should have to choose between football and basketball. I was arguing that, for some, the choice has already been made. Stoops is exactly the right guy to make those people rethink their choices. As a Kentucky fan, I am greatly anticipating the day where football and basketball are treated as equals by the BBN. With Stoops at the helm, it will happen sooner rather than later. And, many years from now, we will all laugh at how naive those fans were in believing that football could never be on the same level as basketball at Kentucky. But that time is still not now, and there are still quite a few, my mother included, who are diehard basketball fans but not diehard football fans. But change is coming. Drew Barker is just the biggest and latest move in the attempt of Mark Stoops to change the perception of the UK football team among both UK fans and outsiders. And it won't be long before none of us, fan or journalist alike, view UK football as UK basketball's "little brother".

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