Tonight, the Kentucky Wildcats take on the Transylvania Pioneers in Rupp Arena in the first pre-season exhibition game. My apologies for not having more up about this contest until now, but family obligations sometimes get in the way of blogging. With that said, here's what we have on tap tonight.
Transylvania comes into historic Rupp Arena for the third straight season. Transylvania had a very good season last year in Division III with a 20-8 overall record, but lost in the first round of the NCAA Division III championships to Illinois Wesleyan.
This series is known as the "Battle on Broadway," because both schools are just down Broadway from each other. Of course, as with any Division I-Division III matchup, the Wildcats will enjoy a substantial talent advantage, even more so this season with the historic recruiting class John Calipari has brought in, and the talented group of returners from last season. Division III schools do not provide athletics scholarships, so all these players are "student athletes" in the traditional sense of the word, that is to say, regular students who go out for the basketball team and are good enough to be chosen to play.
Division III schools are currently 449 members strong, the largest number of schools in any NCAA division, and the NCAA has a very strict policy that no D-III schools shall provide any type of athletics-related aid. Five times in history have D-III schools been hit with the NCAA "death penalty" for violating this principle. As with any NCAA division, there has been cheating in D-III and a lot of dancing in the gray areas. Athletes are allowed to receive regular academic scholarships and other grants, but they may not be for athletic ability and must be representatively proportional to the general student population.
The Battle on Broadway has been successfully used as a vehicle to raise money, and the third annual Battle on Broadway Auction & Dinner raised more than $30,000 for Transylvania's athletics department. It is also a cannon of D-III membership that no school in the division may use endowment funds or funds who's primary purpose is to benefit athletics. But they may raise outside money to benefit their athletics department.
Of course, the outcome of this game is not really in much doubt. The athletes that Transylvania fields are the type of guys that have no real aspirations to professional sports, but rather want to enjoy playing sports as they earn their degree. Between 3 and 7 of Kentucky's players will likely leave for the NBA after this season, but none of the Pioneers will be doing so. At the same time, they will get to enjoy the benefits of being a kid rather longer, learning and maturing under far less time pressure and expectations.
This is a really great series that will hopefully be continued. It benefits Transylvania, and it helps Kentucky ease into the season with a well-coached but lower-level team. This series is becoming something both schools get to look forward to, and is to their mutual benefit.
As usual, we'll have an open game thread at game time and a postmortem after.