The rivalry between Kentucky and Louisville has been a lot of things in the past, but friendly isn't one of them. The Cardinals represent the city of Louisville, a place that might as well be another country to those out in the surrounding state. And to Louisville fans, the Wildcats represent the old guard; an institution that tried to stop the growth of UofL with every ounce of energy it could muster.
Smack talk is common and can get ugly at times. There is a sign on the way to Louisville from Lexington that states "The University of Louisville: We're Miles Ahead". And who could forget the billboard wars of a year ago?
While the rivalry has always been unfriendly and will remain so in the foreseeable future as both teams jockey for athletic supremacy both regionally and nationally, a new phenomenon has been introduced: paranoia.
It's not certain when this trait was manifested but it's a real thing. The rivalry has gone from mutual disdain and bitterness to fans looking over their shoulder for boogeymen ready to sabotage the program. Who are the main protagonists in these narratives of delusional proportions? For Kentucky fans Tom Jurich is the man in the dark suit on the grassy knoll. For Louisville fans John Calipari and World Wide Wes are working together to steal recruits and sabotage their basketball program.
The stories that follow may or may not be true. Judge for yourself the validity of the claims, and remember that people do actually believe that all of this is true.
Tom Jurich: Little Brother's Big Brother
The idea that Louisville's athletic director controls the hometown media is nothing new. Kentucky fans that call the city of Louisville home have been claiming for years that Jurich has a stranglehold on local reporters. Their evidence? According to the perpetrators of this theory, the Louisville AD silenced the media from reporting on the Rick Pitino extortion trial; he routinely tells them which stories to report and which stories to ignore; he forces the media to be positive about Louisville at all times; and he has turned local media outlets into propaganda machines that would make Joseph Stalin proud.
The height of this propaganda theory reached its apex this summer when the infamous rumors about Kevin Ware's status on his team were rampant throughout the Internet. According to the rumors, which were actually started by Louisville fan message boards and twitter accounts, the darling of the NCAA tournament was dismissed from the team due to breaking unspecified team rules. Some speculated that drugs were the cause of his ouster; some also lumped Chane Behanan into the rumor, claiming that he also was removed from the team.
After a firestorm of tweets and Facebook freak-outs, UofL issued a statement that Kevin Ware was still on the team. Immediately the gossip turned to the main villain in George Orwell's classic novel 1984: Tom Jurich.
Try to follow me down the rabbit hole on this one: Kevin Ware was kicked off the team. The UofL players leaked it to friends and random fans. When word got out, Tom Jurich panicked and did not want to see Louisville's version of Rudy being dragged through the mud. So Jurich picked up the red phone by his desk, dialed up the local media members and told them that Kevin Ware was not kicked off the team and they had better not report anything to the contrary.
Trembling and cowering, the journalists went lockstep with the fearless leader and refused to report or investigate anything about Kevin Ware. The investigations were left up to Kentucky fan sites and twitter warriors. The inability to get anyone to talk coupled with the denial of any marching orders from Jurich by the local media, the pursuit was abandoned and the conspiracy theory was validated. Nobody was talking because Jurich had clamped the muzzle on those whose duty is to report the facts.
Once again, the Louisville AD prevailed in keeping the spineless jellyfish minions quiet about what's REALLY going on behind the red curtain.
But don't feel left out Kentucky fans, the Cardinal faithful are chasing phantoms of their own, and they go by the names of John Calipari and World Wide Wes.
John Calipari and World Wide Wes: Banes of Louisville Basketball Recruiting
To be fair to Louisville fans, the NCAA has set Coach Cal and WWW up to be recruiting boogeymen. Two summers ago, CBS Sports released an anonymous coach's poll that asked how much of a factor World Wide Wes is in recruiting. Answers varied from "No effect at all " to "He makes no of secret his allegiance to John Calipari". The myth states that Wes funnels top recruits to the University of Kentucky for a fee paid by John Calipari. Never mind that Cal loses out on top recruits from time to time (why wouldn't they go to UK for all that money?) and that there is absolutely zero real evidence to link the two together as recruiting conspirators.
But the focus here is on Louisville fan paranoia, not the paranoia of overblown basketball writers. This really started with Louisville fans the minute John Calipari was hired. Immediately the Cardinal faithful began lamenting Coach Cal's cheating ways and how he was going to bring World Wide Wes and a sack full of cash with him to Kentucky. Eventually, they thought, Pay Pal Cal would get busted for paying players and there would be a Kentucky's Shame 2.0. So far that hasn't happened, much to their chagrin.
But that hasn't stopped the paranoia. It really amped up when Marquis Teague put on a blue hat instead of a red hat. Teague was supposedly a lock for Louisville. Pitino had recruited him the longest. He had ties to Teague's father. He even hired one of the elite guard's AAU coaches onto the staff at Louisville in order to sweeten the deal. Yet Teague bucked the foregone conclusion and chose to play for the Wildcats and be a part of a national championship team.
Fast forward to the present; Louisville has recently had two nationally ranked recruits decommit within weeks of one another without much of an explanation as to why. The first was Louisville native and four star recruit Quentin Snider. Snider had been committed to the Cards for a while. Then, out of the blue, the shooting guard left Pitino's team and opened up his recruitment.
In the aftermath of the news, Louisville fan message boards and website comment sections lit up with very familiar conspiracy theories:
"Best of luck, Kid.If you were just hoping to ride Louisville one year and jump to the pros, it's best you be on your way. If that's his motivation, wouldn't be surprised at all to see him pull a Marquis Teague. You know Calipari's crooked d**k got hard in a New York minute when he heard the news."
"I was thinking Calipari might have been in his ear."
Of course! John Calipari called up Quentin Snider, told him to decommit from Louisville and play for Kentucky, just like Marquis Teague!
Only that's not how it worked out. Kentucky never actively recruited him and he moved on to commit to the Illinois Illini.
Surely this would be proof enough to stop the myths and the rumors of a John Calipari/World Wide Wes conspiracy to wreck the recruiting classes at Louisville.
Not so fast my friend. Stand out point guard JaQuan Lyle committed to the Cards a few months ago and, just his former future teammate Snider, he left the Cardinal program without much of an explanation.Yet again Louisville fans went the conspiracy well.
"I'd put money on him and Lyles going to UK."
"Yeah, This Smells Bad Looks like The Vacater and WWW are back at it. I understood Snider changing his mind, because Lyle was ranked higher. We'll be fine, but this is fishy..."
"It's gonna happen with how these top guys think these days It's all about the dollar bills and the fame. A year of college is just a necessary evil. Calipari sells that sh*t. Pitino sells team, commitment for at least 3 years, learning to play defense, etc. He's old school that way. One and done will appeal to some of these elite players. No way around it. As a fan, I'm glad we have a coach who doesn't buy into that. I'm happy to get guys ranked lower and have them develop and become Final Four and NC players in a couple-three years."
There is even more than that disgusting kind of talk but I'm sure you get the picture.
But are Cal and Wes hot after Lyle? Not according to Lyle himself.
"ESPN.com reached Lyle over the weekend, and he said that Indiana, Connecticut, Memphis, Arizona, Baylor and Kansas have all made contact since his decommitment."
Here's one interesting quote from the story - on which school Lyle would have trouble turning down.
"It would probably be Kansas," Lyle said. "I like them a lot, and me and [assistant] coach [Jerrance] Howard had a relationship at Illinois and also when he was at SMU."
The Jayhawks are also considered the frontrunners for Alexander.
Does that sound like John Caliapri is hot on his trail? Not really. Cal may be interested in Lyle, he certainly is interested in Alexander, but Cal just received a commitment from point guard Tyler Ulis and will more than likely have Dominique Hawkins on the team next season as well. Not to mention that he is still in hot pursuit of Tyus Jones, who seems to be more of a priority.
What really happened is that Rick Pitino recruited 30 guards and Louisville had an overflowing backcourt. Snider and Lyle wanted to play right away so they split. And so it goes.
John Calipari had nothing to do with their decisions.
How Did it Come to This and Where do We Go From Here?
It's a fairly unique situation all around and I'm left wondering if rivalries around the country act in a similar manner. Do Duke fans see Roy Williams creeping out of their closets at night? Do Michigan fans think that Urban Meyer personally calls Brady Hokes' recruits in order to lure them away from playing for the Wolverines?
I think the bulk of this conspiracy nonsense can be blamed on the Internet. Blogs, message boards, Facebook and Twitter allow fans to spread these crazy ideas all over the place. Back when all fans had were newspapers and magazines, much of this behavior wasn't seen. Sure, you may sit around with your buddy and joke about various plots that your rival has against your team but it normally stayed rather private.
After all, the Internet gave a home to Moon Landing naysayers and 9/11 Truthers. Why can't it also be a safe haven for sports related plots and intrigue?
Now anyone can share their crackpot notions with the click of a button. It's even worse when a supposed reliable website like CBSsports.com makes it a point to use cloak and dagger based stories to drive hits. Even the news isn't news anymore; the information world is turning into a tabloid hell from which there is no visible escape.
But what can logical fans do to combat this? Try to ignore it as much as possible because this phenomenon isn't going away anytime soon. Choose blogs or other media outlets that you know are reputable and don't deal with the unknown or conjectures as breaking news.
It's a difficult thing to do when it's in your face nonstop. I admit that I have taken part in dabbling in some of these wacky myths myself, but I'm trying to be a part of the solution. It's gotten to a point where it is almost unbearable to read and listen to the vitriol that is out there.
What is right is more important than who is right.
Until next time, keep your tin foil hat close by and check your phone and computers for bugs, because you never know who it watching you.