UK basketball notebook: Renovated Rupp comes as too big a cost for one fan

Herald-Leader Staff WriterJuly 6, 2013 

The state allocated money for Rupp Arena's renovation during the 2012 legislative session.

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For Jeanette Hislope, a proposed renovation of Rupp Arena that includes private suites, loge boxes and a members-only lounge is a desecration. It tears apart the Kentucky basketball family.

So to read last week about a survey asking fans if they'd buy suites, exclusive club memberships and other amenities to help pay for a re-invention of Rupp Arena disturbed Hislope's sense of right and wrong.

"I sat here and cried," she said in a telephone conversation Friday.

A self-described "good old girl from Somerset," Hislope spoke of a UK fan base united behind its team. Rich and not-so rich. Black and white. Men and women. Boys and girls.

"It's like we're all in this together and we're all one big family," she said. "That's what I like. To me, it's all about being part of that crowd, and somebody you don't know yelling in your ear and high-fiving you when we make a three-pointer."

The proposed renovation of Rupp Arena brings home what Harvard profession Michael Sandel calls the "skyboxification of American life." People go their separate ways depending on what they can afford: Different schools, different jobs, different lives.

"Commercialism erodes commonality," Sandel wrote last year in a book entitled, What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets. "It's not good for democracy, nor is it a satisfying way to live."

Of course, human beings seem naturally to divide along economic, racial, political, geographical, religious and other lines. But sporting events traditionally have been communal experiences. People of different backgrounds and social positions interacted in an united show of support. The ethos of we-versus-them prevailed.

Hislope, 49, thinks of Kentucky basketball in that way.

"Everybody is together, whether you're sitting in the nose-bleed section or down near the floor," she said. "It's all Big Blue Nation.

"I love Rupp because it's where a multi-millionaire can sit next to somebody who just got lucky and was able to scarf a ticket."

Those supporting a sweeping renovation of Rupp Arena are not unfeeling capitalists. They're simply looking for any and all ways to pay for a massive project to reinvent downtown Lexington during difficult economic times. Not to mention the awkward situation of UK President Eli Capilouto looking to fund an upgrade of campus buildings at exactly the same time.

Suites, loge boxes, lounges and other private clubs in a new Rupp Arena would help fund the renovation.

Bill Rhoda, the president of Conventions, Sports & Leisure International (one of the firms helping local government determine how to pay for the project), noted how prevalent suites, boxes and such luxuries are today. By one count, there are about 600 private suites within a 100-mile radius of Lexington. That includes Commonwealth Stadium, Keeneland Race Course, Churchill Downs and sporting venues in Louisville and Cincinnati.

Plus, Rupp is competing with other facilities for concert acts and other entertainment. An outdated arena "puts you behind the curve," Rhoda said.

As if a $3 million renovation of the UK locker room wasn't enough, gold-plated suites and lounges might help turn the heads of prospects.

On a more practical level, it might make unnecessary an increase in the sales tax, which was one of the ideas floated in the fan survey.

Victor Matheson, an economics professor at the College of Holy Cross, sees private suites and other high-end offerings as perfectly acceptable in our supply-and-demand country. He only questions whether public money should be spent so arenas like Rupp could further pamper the deep-pocketed set.

"There's no doubt that's an experience that's beyond the reach of the typical fan, especially the typical student-fan, right?" Matheson said when asked about suites, loge boxes and a lounge. "If we're still thinking of this as college athletics."

Meanwhile, Hislope, a friendly, out-going woman who works in customer service, worries about what might be lost in a renovated — and stratified — Rupp Arena.

"I always bleed blue," she said before adding, "I think this will make me opt out of the Big Blue Nation if they mess with Rupp Arena."

Opt out of BBN? Is that even possible?

"Very few things are deal-breakers," Hislope said. "That's one. I would never say a word against the Big Blue Nation. But I'd be done. That will ruin what I consider the heart and soul of Rupp Arena."

Alcohol rules

The survey of corporations and fans regarding the proposed renovation of Rupp Arena mentions the possibility of alcohol served in private suites, clubs and a lounge.

Doesn't the SEC ban the sale of sale of alcohol at its sporting events? Yes, it does. League spokesman Craig Pinkerton squared the circle by referencing a SEC bylaw:

"No alcoholic beverages shall be sold or dispensed for public consumption anywhere in the facility and the possession and/or consumption of alcoholic beverages in the public areas of the facility shall be prohibited. These prohibitions shall not apply to private, lease areas in the facility or other areas designated by the SEC."

Whither Wiltjer?

In speaking with the Portland (Ore.) Tribune recently, Kyle Wiltjer's father pretty much confirmed the consensus view: That Wiltjer has been a square peg trying to fit in a round basketball hole at Kentucky. To mix our metaphors, he's a control pitcher in a UK program that prizes overpowering heat. Coincidentally or not, Wiltjer's announcement that he'll explore the possibility of a transfer came shortly after the arrival of another highly regarded recruiting class.

"Kyle has a great relationship with (John) Calipari, but he's not a stereotypical Calipari player," Greg Wiltjer told the newspaper. "If he were at Duke or some other place, they'd be running him off screens, but that's not the Kentucky system. And now he has all these thoroughbreds coming in."

Wiltjer took an extended visit to Gonzaga recently. But a transfer is not a certainty, Greg Wiltjer said. The father said his son is weighing three options: 1. Continue the UK career as is; 2. Sit out next season at UK as a redshirt in order to further improve his fitness and strength; 3. Transfer.

Manifesto

Last week UK Coach John Calipari released what he called his annual summer recruiting "manifesto." It outlines UK's recruiting pitch, which he said stresses providing prospects a means to realize individual dreams (i.e. get to the NBA) while also filling UK team needs.

Calipari noted the need for a prospect to adopt an one-for-all approach, work beyond a "comfort level" and (echoing the first item) sacrifice individual asperations in order to accentuate team achievement.

Pretty standard stuff.

It was the label — "manifesto" — that caught the eye. It's a word that traces back to Latin. According to Wikipedia, a manifesto is "a published declaration of the intentions, motives, or views of the issuer, be it an individual, group, political party or government."

Examples of manifestos in history include Thomas Paine's Common Sense ("These are the times that try men's souls"), The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels and the U.S. Declaration of Independence.

'Nice year'

UK Director of Athletics Mitch Barnhart caught a bit of grief recently after he responded to a media question about Louisville's success in 2012-13 by saying the Cards had "a nice year." U of L became the first school to win a BCS bowl game, place both its men's and women's basketball teams in the NCAA Final Four and reach the College World Series in the same academic year.

After he acknowledged that success, Barnhart ran up the UK flag and saluted it. He suggested that Kentucky had a broader range of success.

The final Director's Cup standings for 2012-13 support that view. UK finished No. 25 in the athletics director association's tabulation of all teams' success in the last school year. U of L finished No. 38.

Congrats to both.

By the way, Stanford finished first in the Director's Cup standings. Florida finished second. Also in the top 10 were Texas A&M (No. 5) and Georgia (No. 10).

'A' for ACC?

Of course, all the conference expansions and realignments seek to increase potential television audiences. The larger the audience, the larger the advertisement revenue, the larger the financial windfall for leagues.

With that in mind, the ACC marked its 2013-14 expansion by having a group of athletic officials ring the closing bell at NASDAQ on Monday.

Commissioner John Swofford noted the ACC's potential strength given the addition of Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame this coming school year.

"It's projected by 2030 that 55 percent of the U.S. population will lie within the ACC footprint," he said. "Our marketplace opportunities, along with the population numbers, both current and projected, give the ACC enormous potential as a conference over the next 15 years and beyond."

Of course, Louisville joins the ACC in 2014.

Money aside (if that's possible), Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim noted the promise of even more compelling basketball in the ACC.

"The ACC was the premier basketball league when I started in coaching and it has stayed there consistently for 40 years," Boeheim said. "Now it has gotten better. I think everybody is looking forward to the games: the Syracuse-Duke game, the Syracuse-North Carolina game. All these games are games that will quickly become a great game in college basketball that particular year.

"It's new. It's exciting. We are very proud to be part of this league."

Swofford also suggested the ACC holds an enviable status academically. "The ACC's 15 member institutions rank first among BCS conferences in the latest U.S. News and World Report's 'Best Colleges' list by any measure," he said.

Tweet twansaction

In case you missed it, Stanford announced last week that it had traded its twitter handle @SUAthletics to Syracuse. To complete the trade, Syracuse will send a collection of local goods to be named later to Stanford. Those goods are expected to include a case of oranges, which Stanford intends to use to refill its 2011 Orange Bowl trophy.

Stanford had fun with the announcement, saying it was "believed to be the first blockbuster trade in college athletics."

Athletics Director Bernard Muir spoke of "this dynamic trade" in the news release. He noted that his school's new handle would be @GoStanford. And he wished @SUAthletics "good luck in a new home."

Stanford hinted at another "big off-season move" that could come early this week.

Muir declined to comment further but directed @Go Stanford fans to "Keep Calm and Tree On."

Happy birthday

To Carlos Toomer, one of the first recruits secured by then UK coach Rick Pitino. He turns 41 on Tuesday. ... To Todd May, one of the last recruits secured by then UK coach Joe B. Hall. He turned 49 on Friday.

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Email: jtipton@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com.

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