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College Basketball: The Wisconsin Badgers' Inferiority Complex

Hey Wisconsin fans -- go pick on somebody else.
Hey Wisconsin fans -- go pick on somebody else.

You're sitting there, minding your own business, polishing your NCAA Tournament championship basketball trophy you just received in the mail, trying to figure out how to correct the spelling faux pas on your keys to Pikeville, and BAM! Some Wisconsin guy with a chip on his shoulder tries to take your head off, all because his team's head coach, Bo Ryan, got eviscerated by the media for acting the very fool in a transfer matter.

Hey, Wisconsin fans -- as far as I know, we have no reason to hate you. Your coach did a Bad Thing, then he went on Mike & Mike in the Morning and proved the old wisdom that when the slings an arrows are flying at you from all directions, put your head down and shut up. That's not Kentucky's fault. But this guy apparently didn't get the memo:

But while UK alums are sporting celebratory sweatshirts and goofy grins, U.S. News rates their school the 124th best university in the country compared to Wisconsin at 42. And in a ranking of athletic departments based on performance in all sports, UK is currently at 21st, 14 places below Wisconsin. The Cats' success on the basketball court doesn't seem to be spilling over into many other parts of the university.

"Our school is better than your school, nya, nya, nya." Really, guys, we don't care. Yes, we'd like to have a higher ranked school, but Kentucky is a smallish, relatively poor state. Plus, we really like our basketball here, and don't care how good you are in hockey or rowing.

I think Ryan understands that because his teams have been relatively successful here, his position comes with a bully pulpit from which he can push his vision of college athletics. It includes putting the institution ahead of the individual, making academics the top priority, earning a degree and leaving school with some life lessons in addition to basketball skills. But mostly, that statement indicates that Ryan believes there are more important things than winning basketball games.

If Ryan's vision of college athletics includes putting entire swaths of the map off-limits for players who want to transfer out of his program, I'm not sure that's one that's worth sharing. Ryan places the institution so far above his players that he effectively treated Jarrod Uthoff like a piece of property.

At Kentucky, we try to treat people like, well, people. Call us backward and inurbane if you will, but when Stacey Poole decided to transfer this past year, Calipari didn't restrict him -- instead, he gave him time, talked with the family and offered his assistance. We may not be the smartest, or the most educated, but we are pretty nice. Seems like Bo doesn't know nice.

As far as Ryan placing academics above winning basketball games, Kentucky has among the highest APR's in the SEC, and does that in spite of losing multiple players to the NBA draft every year. Wisconsin brings in players, the vast majority of which will be going pro in something besides athletics, so it makes sense for them to graduate -- after all, most of them aren't going to make money playing basketball. UK, on the other hand, has created no less than seven multimillionaires in the last two years, and figures to produce at least four and possibly as many as six this year alone.

How many Badgers have become multimillionaires shortly after leaving school the last three years? One, maybe (Jordan Taylor)?

Meanwhile, the ends justify the means at UK, where fielding a hoops squad with players who have no intention of finishing their degrees isn't just tolerated, it's embraced. That seems odd for an institution with a mission that seeks to make life better in Kentucky through educational excellence. UW has a similar mission statement, realized by guys like Rob Wilson who also happens to play basketball.

Oh, you mean that creating winning basketball teams and multimillionaires is bad? Is a college degree really worth multiple millions of dollars, even in a lifetime? No? Well, it seems to me a slavish devotion to the "end" of producing educated but mostly middle-class former basketball players is not an unworthy goal, but it's pretty clear that in both cases, the young men are leaving school prepared for their chosen profession. Looking-down-the-nose elitism is exactly the kind of attitude that leads to treating players like property, so I'd rethink that if I were you.

As to Kentucky's mission statement, let's reproduce that in total:

The University of Kentucky is a public, land grant university dedicated to improving people's lives through excellence in education, research and creative work, service, and health care. As Kentucky's flagship institution, the University plays a critical leadership role by promoting diversity, inclusion, economic development, and human well-being.

I know this may come as a surprise to your highly-educated self, but did you fail to notice that education is but one of the objectives of UK's mission? UK, like UW, provides more than just 4-year educational programs. The UK system provides for technical and 2-year, as well as trade-type education for the Commonwealth. The University's mission is not just about degrees, but about making people's lives better with or without them.

Just think about these seven players at UK who will leave this year -- Two of them will leave with 4-year degrees, and both of them will probably play professional basketball at some level and earn a lot of money. Three of them will certainly become millionaires in June, and the other two likely will, as well. Even if they don't, they will earn a lot of money playing professional basketball somewhere, more money that most people with college degrees will earn in a lifetime.

UW is a fine school with many fine qualities, but look down your nose at someone else. When it comes to basketball, we are champions, and you are also-rans. Sorry if the blunt truth hurts, but that's where pretentious elitism leads.