Mark Story: Why Indiana fans hate Kentucky

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistMarch 22, 2012 

ATLANTA — Kentucky is the one seeking payback. Remember that.

Check in this week on Indiana Hoosiers-themed Internet message boards, Indiana newspaper Web site comment sections and IU hoops-oriented blogs, and you will see a torrent of ill will directed toward Kentucky.

On the verge of the first Kentucky-Indiana NCAA Tournament game in 29 years, one thing seems apparent about the rivalry between the border-state schools with the regal basketball pedigrees:

Even after IU's Christian Watford's buzzer-beater stunned the Cats in December in Bloomington, Indiana still hates Kentucky more than Kentucky hates Indiana.

"Indiana fans, they really do not like Kentucky basketball," says Tom Spalding, an Indianapolis public relations official who is a 1992 UK graduate. "It's a mixture of loathing and disgust."

Mike Pegram is a longtime observer of Indiana basketball whose Web site, peegs.com, is on the Rivals network (he's not the Bob Baffert buddy and Thoroughbred horse owner of the same name).

"I agree, at this point in time, Indiana fans dislike Kentucky more than Kentucky fans dislike Indiana," Pegram wrote in an email. "I don't think there's any question about that. ... It's probably been this way since Bob Knight left Indiana. The gap obviously widened with Indiana's struggles over the prior few years leading up to this season."

How did the dislike meter between UK and IU get so far out of balance?

In sports rivalries, the teams winning the least tend to hate the most.

Even counting Indiana's upset of Kentucky in December, UK has beaten the Hoosiers in 16 of the last 21 meetings between the schools.

"Sort of like Duke is to us, we're that to Indiana fans," said Spalding, a former Indianapolis Star reporter whose family has UK basketball season tickets.

Part of it may be the overall suffering Indiana fans have endured for almost two decades now.

Before this bounce-back season for IU (27-8), Hoosiers fans had endured double-digit defeats in 15 of 17 seasons, and four outright losing seasons in the 2000s.

"It's been hell," said Tammi Spicer, a St. Louis attorney and an Indiana graduate who was in the Georgia Dome on Thursday for Indiana's open practice. "It's been 10 years since we've even made the (round of 16). That's why we've been so excited this year. For us, this is Indiana basketball getting back to where it is supposed to be."

Of course, there is another dimension that fuels Indiana's disdain for Kentucky.

Going back to the Knight days, IU and its fan base have liked to see their basketball program as an example of "doing things the right way" in terms of rules compliance.

Many tend to view Kentucky as the exact opposite of that.

According to an NCAA data base, Kentucky has been sanctioned for rules violations seven times (split between football and men's basketball) in its history. Indiana has been penalized three times by the NCAA, twice for football (1957 and 1960) and in 2008 for basketball coach Kelvin Sampson and his illegal phone calls.

Pegram notes that since at least the mid-1970s, Kentucky has tended to have more talent on its hoops rosters than IU.

"Many Indiana fans have long believed Kentucky doesn't recruit fairly," wrote Pegram. "And now you have these teams built with top 10-ranked kids that only stay a year or two. It reinforces that talent frustration and also builds resentment because Kentucky is not building teams the traditional way."

My sense is that many Kentucky fans hate Knight, with his tempestuous temper and contempt for UK, far more than they dislike Indiana.

"That's what I never got with this whole 'doing things the right way,'" says Spalding, the UK alum in Indianapolis. "I'm not sure what that's steeped in with the guy whose setting that tone throwing flower pots at secretaries and accosting students because they don't call him 'Sir.'"

Not all Indiana fans agree that the hate runs hotter north of the Ohio River.

"I think it's a misconception," says Dan Farley, an Indiana backer who lives in Lexington. "We really hate Purdue, not Kentucky."

Of course, in the next breath Farley is explaining how hurt he was by Kentucky's 92-90 upset of an undefeated Indiana in the 1975 NCAA Tournament. "I was crushed, absolutely crushed," he said.

Whatever happens in Friday night's meeting between the Cats and Hoosiers, the good news for those who recall the white-hot intensity that ran both ways in the UK-IU rivalry from the days before Knight and his program jumped the shark is that current IU Coach Tom Crean is recruiting at a very high level now.

"With Indiana bringing in a top recruiting class to add to a Sweet 16 team dominated by underclassmen, the competitiveness of the series should bolster the rivalry and add to Kentucky fans' hatred of the Hoosiers," wrote Pegram. "But unless Kentucky falls out of the national elite, Hoosier fans will probably continue to hate the Cats more than the other way around."

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com

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