Whenever Jerry Tipton's name gets mentioned, a fair number of the Big Blue Nation immediately turns a funny shade of purple in their apoplexy. I have always found this a humorous and even endearing trait of some of our membership. Those that see Tipton as a bad guy frequently refuse to read his work, engaging in a secondary boycott of a person that they see as hostile to Kentucky basketball.
Of course, I've taken on Tipton a few times, and often find his reporting curmudgeonly, but he generally gets it right. He's sometimes tone-deaf, as good reporters tend to be, but personally I think he does a good job and I respect him for the fact that he tries very hard to be objective — whether a story is inimical or beneficial to Kentucky, he duly reports it. Many people think he prefers to write stories that "hurt" the perception of Kentucky, but I don't find this to be so. Tipton, in my opinion, is a good reporter, and I respect him for his careful neutrality. I think it's something every program needs, although I think at times he tries a little too hard. Having said that, trying to report stories objectively is very difficult, and I think he does it pretty well.
Comes now Tipton with a story today that has been percolating around the Internet, and has been duly noted in the Quickies a time or two: Kentucky is a hugely desirable opponent for SEC schools. There are very few schools in the SEC not named Kentucky that can generate a home sellout in this conference of extremely modest basketball support, but Kentucky is manifestly one of them — in fact, it is singular in its ability to draw fans.
Obviously, this isn't lost on the rest of the SEC, and especially the league leadership. Because of conference realignment and the now-14 team league we have, Kentucky has become an even more desirable commodity, because the league can no longer have home-home games with all its members, even inside what was formerly their division, and get to play everybody in the league at least once. So the conference tried to spread Kentucky around to lots of different schools in order to help the bottom line. This resulted in something we complained bitterly about last season — the loss of the annual rivalry with Tennessee. But maybe that is changing:
New Tennessee Coach Donnie Tyndall made that point after saying the Vols were among the programs that listed Kentucky as a preferred home-and-home opponent in basketball.
"I say this tongue in cheek," Tyndall said. "Coach Hart listed them. I did not.
"Our A.D. (Dave Hart) wants Kentucky in here for ticket sales and revenue. And I get that. Coach Tyndall, with only four returning players and Coach (John) Calipari having nine McDonald's All-Americans, I did not."
I think Hart understands what Tyndall does not — the history of the UK-Tennessee rivalry, a history that the article goes on to explain in detail. It was that history that frustrated me and many others here at A Sea of Blue. The new arrangement really hurt Georgia in particular last season, who wound up playing Kentucky only once, in Rupp Arena, in the regular season. As a result, their home attendance was a paltry 6,126. In case you've forgotten, Georgia was pretty good last season, just missing the NCAA Tournament and winning its first game in the NIT.
The Dawgs are expected to be even better this season, but another conference schedule with a low RPI could wind up relegating them to the NIT again. It seems now that the SEC has gotten the message to some extent, and Tipton says that it was more for reasons of conference competitiveness than historical rivalry:
The league asked each school to identify, in order, three opponents it would like to play home-and-home every season. The goal is to give each school at least two of its preferences.
Whitworth said the SEC hopes to achieve three goals: 1. help schools sell season-ticket packages; 2. give television attractive matchups; 3. improve as many teams' Ratings Percentage Index (and thus NCAA Tournament bid profiles) as possible.
No surprise that many schools (but not all) listed Kentucky as a preferred home-and-home opponent.
It would be interesting to know which schools did not request Kentucky, but the article doesn't say. From my point of view, it would be interesting to dissect that list and try to glean their reasoning. I don't buy that any of them are "scared" to play the Wildcats, and no doubt all of them would love to have the home revenue that a UK game inevitably generates. So perhaps fear is a factor after all. We'll probably never know. Maybe they just don't like Blue and White. Consider:
"I think that everybody would like to have Kentucky," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said earlier this week. "Kentucky has been the bell cow in this league for years and years and years. If you gave just about everybody a choice, if they did not consider the competitive disadvantages it may create because it's awfully tough to beat them, I think everyone would line up and want to play Kentucky."
Apparently not everybody, Kevin. But it's nice of you to say.
Anyway, what's being proposed now is an expansion of the number of permanent SEC opponents from one to three. The league is taking requests from all the schools, and will try to grant each school at least two of their preferred three. The key word here is "try," as there's bound to be some people who wind up with permanent opponents that the league doles out that don't match up with their desires.
I'm staking this position out right now — if Tennessee isn't one of ours, I'm going to be most displeased. I'd personally prefer the other to be LSU or Arkansas, and I guess I'd have to flip a coin — Kentucky has played LSU 110 times in history and the Razorbacks only 36, but I'd say Kentucky has more of what could be considered a "rivalry" with Arkansas than the Bayou Bengals. Still, I'd much rather attend an away game in Baton Rouge than Fayetteville.
I'm glad to see this, and I think it is a good idea. Georgia hopefully will wind up with Florida or Tennessee, LSU certainly needs to get one of the former Eastern division squads like Vandy or South Carolina. I think Texas A&M needs Arkansas or Mizzou in addition to an Eastern squad.
Hopefully, we'll get something better by doing it this way. I think this is a great move by the conference, and I hope they can make it work to everyone's satisfaction.