Kentucky fans seem to like the promotion involving Chick-fil-A. If an opposing player misses two straight free throws in the second half of home games, fans get a free chicken sandwich. When the first free throw is missed, cheering erupts in gleeful anticipation of a second miss.
Isn’t this a bit undignified for the self-proclaimed greatest program in the history of college basketball? Mighty Kentucky can be leading by 30 points, and the fans cheer for an opponent to miss free throws so they can get a free chicken sandwich?
Ashley Judd, UK’s most famous fan, tweeted her objections. She called the promotion “tacky” and said “we are better than that!”
Whatever you think of the propriety of the promotion, UK is not alone. Maryland, Southern California, South Carolina and Wake Forest are among the college teams that stage a so-called “Fowl Shot” promotion. NBA teams do, too.
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When asked about Judd’s tweets, Nathan Schwake, UK’s associate director of athletics for marketing and promotion, said, “Everybody’s entitled to their own perspective on everything that happens.”
Schwake and basketball spokesman Eric Lindsey noted the promotion’s popularity with UK fans.
“It’s hard to go against what the masses are supporting,” Schwake said.
Added Lindsey: “That’s one of the things Nathan and his staff are trying to do: engage with the fans. It think it’s certainly helped do that.”
While it might be odd to have fans root for missed free throws with Kentucky ahead by 30, Schwake said UK could not control the score.
Nor is Judd alone in questioning the promotion.
Paige Pierce, a third-year public health major, wrote a letter of protest to the South Carolina student newspaper, The Daily Gamecock.
“I was absolutely appalled by the portrayal of unsportsmanlike conduct,” she wrote.
In addition to simply objecting to the promotion, Pierce offered a way to combine marketing and sportsmanship.
“Why not make the ‘Fowl Shot’ promotion for the Gamecocks scoring two consecutive shots, or making multiple three-point shots?” she wrote.
UCLA does just that. Fans at home games get a free Chick-fil-A sandwich if the Bruins make 10 or more three-point shots.
It’s been suggested that fan reaction to the chance of free sandwiches can affect a game. On Jan. 19, Southern Cal trailed by 21 points midway through the second half against visiting Arizona.
The fans cheered wildly when Arizona forward Dusan Ristic missed what seemed like two meaningless free throws. Perhaps buoyed by a crowd enlivened by the promise of free chicken sandwiches, Southern Cal rallied before ultimately losing 73-66.
At Wake Forest, fans get a free chicken sandwich any time an opposing player misses two straight free throws after the third television timeout of the second half. The sandwiches are available at any Winston-Salem Chick-fil-A the next day (or Monday in the case of Saturday games).
“This is the first year we have done it, and our fans love it,” Wake Forest spokesman Steve Kirkland wrote in an email. “The only negative feedback we have gotten is from fans complaining that the Greensboro CFAs — about 20 miles away — aren’t part of the promotion.”
The quaint issue of sportsmanship has not been raised at Wake Forest. Then again, Kirkland acknowledged that Wake Forest does not have the kind of dynasty program where 30-point leads are common.
But free chicken sandwiches are becoming common for Wake Forest fans. Four times in the first nine home games an opponent missed the back-to-back free throws. Without the promotion last season, opponents missed back-to-back free throws in the second half three times in 15 home games, Kirkland said.
Learfield Sports, the media rights partner for Lexington Center Corp., arranged the chicken promotion in Rupp Arena. Per the lease agreement, UK receives a third of the fee paid to stage the promotion. LCC gets the other two-thirds.
LCC president and CEO Bill Owen said decisions about promotions are made by Lexington Center Corp. and Learfield. Tobacco and alcohol advertising is not permitted nor is anything that is deemed “in poor taste or inconsistent with collegiate sports marketing,” Owen wrote in an email.
Owen said UK has no influence and no veto power in the choice of promotions. The school merely receives part of the revenue.
Owen would not say how much Chick-fil-A paid to stage the promotion at UK games. But he said that Rupp Arena and Kentucky basketball represent a “significant opportunity” for marketing and promotion. “You’re looking at over 20 million households per season,” Owen said. “That’s pretty substantial.”
QSR (Quick Service Restaurant) Magazine reported a study that showed 89 percent of college sports fans visit a fast-food restaurant. And in 2009, 114 million people attended a college sporting event.
With the ending of the so-called Camp Cal, a conversation last fall with Willie Cauley-Stein came to mind. The topic: How does John Calipari get a group of heralded freshmen to mesh into an effective unit?
“You make them do a bunch of (stuff) together, build some type of camaraderie,” Cauley-Stein said.
Of course, Camp Cal gives the players more time to do (stuff) together.
“You’ve got to go to his house all the time. . . . ,” Cauley-Stein said. “While you’re doing it, you don’t understand it. Like, ‘Man, what do you mean I got to come sleep at your house when we have two-a-days and we live 30 seconds from the gym?’”
And the accommodations at Wildcat Coal Lodge also make sleepovers at Calipari’s house seem odd.
“A Tempur-Pedic bed and I’ve got to go sleep on the floor?” Cauley-Stein said. “You don’t understand it, but when you leave, then you understand it.
“There were so many times we were joking on the floor or we were just talking and being around each other. That’s what he wants to do with that. I took it for granted then. But, now, it’s like you kind of have that little family going. It’s cool.”
It’s not like that in the NBA, Cauley-Stein said.
Not that difficult?
The early evidence suggests that it’s not that difficult to win on the road in the SEC.
Tuesday’s victory at Mississippi State improved Kentucky’s road record in the SEC under John Calipari to 42-21. That’s a winning percentage of .667.
For comparison, in that same span of time, Ole Miss has a home record against SEC teams of 43-20, and LSU had a home record of 35-28 going into this weekend.
In Calipari’s time as coach, Kentucky is unbeaten at two SEC outposts: Mississippi State and Missouri. UK plays at Missouri on Feb. 21.
Overall, road teams had a 21-19 record in league play this season going into this weekend.
Four teams were unbeaten on the SEC road: Kentucky, South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi State. Only two teams had not won an SEC road game: Texas A&M and Missouri.
It’s not unusual for a coach to be excused early from his segment on an SEC coaches’ teleconference. Sometimes, there’s simply not much to discuss.
But it was surprising when it happened to UK Coach John Calipari last Monday. Usually, his highly rated team or some basketball issue leads to a flood of questions.
But Calipari’s time on the teleconference was 2 minutes and 20 seconds. Almost 5 minutes shy of his allotted seven minutes.
Former Mississippi State coach Richard Williams does the analysis on radio broadcasts of the Bulldogs’ games. Before State played UK on Tuesday, he tried to convey how popular former MSU quarterback Dak Prescott has become.
Williams spoke recently in Biloxi at a meeting of the Mississippi Association of Athletic Administrators.
Another speaker, who works in a Dallas-based office that deals with civil rights issues, approached Williams after his talk.
“Her first words were, ‘Do you know Dak Prescott?’” Williams said. “Talk about a blow to the ego.”
Mississippi State point guard Lamar Peters deserves applause from all basketball fans, if not a sweep of the SEC’s Player and Freshman of the Week Awards.
Three days after his father died on Jan. 11, Peters had 14 points (11 of 11 free throws), four assists and five steals in a 67-59 victory over Texas A&M. He also defended D.J. Hogg, who committed six turnovers.
Afterward, MSU Coach Ben Howland told Peters that his father would be proud of him.
Then, six days after his father died, Peters scored a career-high 25 points against Kentucky.
The Kentucky Blood Center’s annual Big Blue Slam will be Monday through Friday. Fans for UK and Florida compete to see which group can donate the most blood.
Kentucky and Florida are tied, each winning four times since their competition began in 2009.
Everyone who registers to donate during Slam will receive a blue Big Blue Slam T-shirt and a chance to win a pair of tickets to the 2017 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship’s first and second rounds in Indianapolis on March 17 and 19.
As a further incentive, UK fans can donate in Rupp Arena on Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Donors can take shots at the Rupp baskets before donating. No appointments are necessary, and parking is free in the Manchester Street lot behind the arena. Donors should enter the arena from the Manchester parking lot.
During Slam week, KBC donor centers will be open extended hours: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.
To former Alabama player and coach Mark Gottfried. He turned 53 on Friday. . . . To Rupp Runt Larry Conley. He turns 73 on Sunday (today). . . . To Perry Stevenson. He turns 30 on Monday. . . . To former Tennessee coach Kevin O’Neill. He turns 60 on Tuesday. . . . To Chris Mills. The first — and until this season only — UK player to post a triple-double turns 47 on Wednesday.