Historically, celebrations following big University of Kentucky tournament games have straddled the line between celebrations and civil unrest, and Saturday's historic game against rival University of Louisville has the potential to draw the biggest — and rowdiest — crowd ever.
In anticipation of thousands of people spilling into the streets and drunken celebrations that often include the burning of couches, officials from Lexington and UK held a news conference Wednesday to discuss plans to prevent injuries and property damage following Saturday's Final Four matchup.
The game will mark the first time in NCAA history that two Kentucky universities have faced off in the Final Four.
"There's a lot of history in the making," Mayor Jim Gray said. "With that comes a lot of excitement and enthusiasm."
However, he and other officials urged fans to keep the peace, which has proved a tall order in the past, namely in 1996 when a number of injuries and more than $40,000 in property damage were reported following the Wildcats' championship win against Syracuse University.
"We want to come through Saturday ... with our neighborhoods and our citizens fully intact," he said.
South Limestone near campus and the intersection of Woodland and Euclid avenues, where large groups of students typically gather to watch tournament games and celebrate afterward, will be blocked immediately following the game, which is expected to end between 8 and 9 p.m., Lexington police Cmdr. Mike Blanton said.
Officers will also be keeping an eye on other areas with high concentrations of student housing, such as the State Street area, Red Mile and South Broadway, and will close streets as needed if fans form impromptu street parties, police said.
Parking at metered spaces will be restricted on Limestone, Woodland and Euclid beginning about 5 p.m. Vehicles that aren't removed will be towed during the game, which tips off at 6:09 p.m.
Police are asking drivers and pedestrians to avoid areas around UK campus and downtown altogether unless they want to be part of the celebration. None of the officials ventured to guess how many people would attend street celebrations, but an estimated 12,000 fans took to the streets after UK's last championship win in 1998.
"Because it's Louisville, we expect it to be a much larger event on Saturday than were it any other team," police Cmdr. Kelli Edwards said.
Last year, police in riot gear lined the streets along Limestone, and the public should expect a similar response this year, Lexington police Chief Ronnie Bastin said. Police will have a "mobile contingent" that can respond quickly to any area in town, he said.
Fans are asked to refrain from throwing things, burning things, climbing things or jumping on things after the game. Those who damage property, injure others or are a danger to themselves will be arrested, Edwards said.
Students found to have been involved in criminal activity will face additional sanctions and punishments from the university, UK police chief Joe Monroe said.
Lexington Fire Chief Keith Jackson asked fans not to participate in the tradition of burning couches in the street, which creates the potential to injure people, destroy cars and homes and block access of emergency vehicles.
Fire department spokesman Ed Davis said the fires also have the unintended consequence of tying up resources within the short-staffed fire department. Firefighters extinguished a dozen fires Sunday following UK's win over Baylor University.
"While we are down there putting out a couch, somebody in Lexington is having a heart attack, somebody in Lexington is having a car wreck and somebody in Lexington is having a fire at their home," he said.
Davis said a car and an apartment building were damaged last year when couch fires spread, though firefighters extinguished them before the fires did major damage.
Jackson said people who set fires could be charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct or violating the city's open burning ordinance.
However, if the fire injures someone or spreads to a building, "you've taken yourself to a whole other realm of prosecution," he said.
Officials encouraged revelers to have fun, but to stay safe. They pointed out that the entire nation was watching not only the game, but the state's reaction as two of its universities battle.
"We are not just the University of Lexington, we are the University of Kentucky," President Eli Capilouto said. "How we conduct ourselves this week has implications for our future."
Josh Kegley: (859) 231-3197Twitter: @HLPublicSafety