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The rings are a nice gesture, but Kentucky didn’t win anything

Let’s not sugarcoat it: Kentucky football’s bowl rings are participation trophies.

UK Athletics

In case you haven’t heard, Kentucky football gave its players rings for making the TaxSlayer Bowl.

I want to preface the following rant with this: Kentucky football was a ton of fun to watch in the 2016 season. Mark Stoops’ turnaround of the team was incredible, Stephen Johnson was one of the best feel-good stories of the year, and Benny Snell’s explosion onto the SEC scene as a true freshman was nothing short of miraculous. The Cats went on an immaculate run, going 5-2 in their last seven to save the season, and Mark Stoops’ job. They beat the arch-rival Louisville Cardinals, they were first in the SEC East for a few minutes, and they made a bowl for the first time since 2010, They had, by any UK football standard, a successful season.

But they didn’t have a ring-worthy season.

See, here’s the thing: Kentucky didn’t actually win anything. Rings are good rewards for postseason victories; e.g. conference championships, bowl victories and national championships. Rings are not good for a regular season victory that means nothing more than bragging rights. The Governor’s Cup already has an actual physical trophy, which is more than enough to celebrate a regular season win.

Kentucky didn’t win their conference. They weren’t even in their conference championship. And I can’t forget my biggest problem with Kentucky getting rings: They did not win the bowl that they received rings for. 82 teams played in a bowl this past year. I have a hard time even convincing myself that all of the 41 winners deserved a ring, especially in a time where 5-7 teams are making bowl games.

I realize that I sound crazy, because we’re living in this world where everyone gets a trophy as long as they tried their hardest. But despite their best efforts, Kentucky football didn’t actually do anything to earn a ring.

I’m reminded of the words (or text) of James Harrison, one of the all-time great Pittsburgh Steelers, who once took to Instagram to complain about his sons receiving participation trophies.

I came home to find out that my boys received two trophies for nothing, participation trophies! While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do and will encourage them till the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they EARN a real trophy. I'm sorry I'm not sorry for believing that everything in life should be earned and I'm not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best...cause sometimes your best is not enough, and that should drive you to want to do better...

Are Kentucky fans and staff proud of the 2016 team? Of course. They made huge strides in the program’s rebuild. But sometimes your best is not enough.

Now I know what you’re thinking. “C’mon, man. Other schools do this all the time!” Yeah, I know they do, and I point and laugh at the every time they do. And so do you guys. It’s not OK because Kentucky did it. In fact, it’s worse, because I never expected Kentucky to be one of those schools, awarding effort despite the lack of results.

And when other schools do it, there’s usually more to celebrate than what Kentucky is celebrating. For instance, Louisville did the same thing back in 2011 after losing the Belk Bowl and finishing 7-6. However, they won the Big East.

A conference title is totally worthy of a ring. Finishing second in a terrible SEC East? Not worthy of a ring.

In my rant, I have to take a moment to acknowledge the fact that Rick Pitino once gave his seniors rings for accomplishing nothing. Granted, that was the year that they self-imposed a postseason ban because the NCAA found out they were using strippers to attract recruits.

That, my friends, is a perfect example of a point-and-laugh moment.

Don’t get me wrong, Kentucky is getting better and 2016 was a breakthrough year for the Cats. But the standards for a ring shouldn’t be lowered just because the team worked hard and persevered. Every team works hard. Every team has to overcome adversity. Whether you’re 0-12 or 12-0 at the end of the regular season, it took a lot for you to get there. That doesn’t mean the 0-12 team deserves a ring. That doesn’t mean the 6-6 team deserves a ring. Hell, it doesn’t even mean the 12-0 team deserves a ring if they’ve yet to play their conference championship or their bowl game(s).

Perhaps the thing that Kentucky football is overlooking is this: A successful season for UK football isn’t necessarily a successful season from a national standpoint. Until Kentucky wins a bowl game, or wins makes a conference championship, rings should be out of the question.

Kentucky football is on the upswing, and I’m excited about it. But it’s not time for the jewelry just yet. We should expect more.