John Clay: Kentucky's Phillips knows team needs to start filling seats

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistJuly 27, 2012 

Kentucky football coach Joker Phillips spoke at the Governor's Cup luncheon at Cardinal Club in Simpsonville, Ky., on July 26, 2012. Pablo Alcala | Staff

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Maybe you were surprised at the sheer number — a whopping 27 percent — but surely no one was surprised by Jennifer Smith's article Friday outlining the sharp drop in Kentucky football season ticket sales from last year to this year (so far).

In fact, I happened to see a friend back in May who has strong connections to the UK program who told me he had been told that sales had plunged 30 percent from last year.

UK officials can talk about the economy and the vast number of games on television, but the main factor is performance on the field. Just as the coaches judge playing time by a player's performance on the field, a fan judges how to spend his or her hard-earned dollars by a team's performance on the field or optimism about the future.

Sorry, but the days of everyone supporting Good Ol' State U. just for the sake of Good Ol' State U. are over. College sports is big business selling a product. That #WeAreUK only goes so far.

The football Cats are coming off their second straight losing season and the first season in six without a bowl game. Not only that, they were blown out by Florida (48-10), LSU (35-7) and South Carolina (54-3) in successive weeks. They lost to Louisville at home (24-17). Plus, Kentucky lost at Vanderbilt by 30 points (38-8).

Yes, the Cats did beat Tennessee for the first time since 1984 — an accomplishment that was continually played up at Thursday's UK-U of L football luncheon — but that one bright spot is not going to override all the dark clouds on the horizon.

Subtract the team's two best defensive players (Danny Trevathan and Winston Guy) and add an expanded Southeastern Conference that welcomed Missouri and Texas A&M, two schools that went to bowl games last season. It's not a prescription for optimism.

I think Joker Phillips has some good young football players who are capable of developing into stars. I want to see more of Maxwell Smith, Demarco Robinson, Josh Clemons, Bud Dupree, Avery Williamson, Miles Simpson, Glenn Faulkner, Bookie Cobbins, etc., just to name a few.

And I want to see Phillips given every opportunity to succeed. He's an alumnus, a former player, a former assistant here who made significant contributions to the program's rise under Rich Brooks. I think most Kentucky fans want Phillips to succeed, as well.

No one factor sends a coach to the unemployment line quicker than a lack of "fannies in the seats" as C.M. Newton used to say. These days, fans don't vote with their hearts, they vote with their wallets. Phillips is smart. He knows what he's up against. As they say, the bottom line is the final score on the scoreboard.

In this case, the bottom line is the number in the seats.

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: jclay@herald-leader.com.Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com

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