Rightly or wrongly, the question of whether to build a new arena or, as planners like to term it, "reinvent" Rupp Arena dwarfs other considerations in Lexington Mayor Jim Gray's vision of a vibrant downtown district.
The partnership between Lexington leaders and the University of Kentucky will move closer to answering that question within the next two weeks. That's when consultants led by Global Spectrum will issue a study of the feasibility of three options:
■ Reinvent Rupp Arena, the Lexington Convention Center and the Civic Center shops. How could that be done? What would it cost?
■ Build a new arena on the High Street parking lot. What would it cost? What would it mean to the overall arts and entertainment district?
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■ Build a new convention center on the Cox Street or High Street parking lots. That implies a renovation, er, reinvention of Rupp Arena. What would it cost?
Gray's Arts and Entertainment Task Force will digest the feasibility study and make its recommendation as early as the end of the year and no later than Jan. 31. That leaves the final decision to the Urban County Council and Lexington Center Board.
Judging by recent projects, a new arena for UK basketball would cost somewhere between $237 million (Yum Center in Louisville) and about $330 million (Amway Center in Orlando).
As Grandma used to say, that's "many monies." Keep in mind that any reinvention of Rupp Arena presumably would be less expensive than construction of a new arena. Theoretically, a reinvention of Rupp has the added bonus of freeing up more money for the overall arts and entertainment district.
The role model for a reinvention of Rupp Arena is New York's Madison Square Garden. MSG is undergoing a three-year face lift that will include "event level" suites, widened and updated concourses and concession stands.
What intrigues Lexington leaders is how the New York Knicks and Rangers continue to play in the building as the renovation occurs in phases covering three off-seasons.
Such a plan would satisfy UK's wish that any renovation of Rupp Arena does not force the Cats to play "home" games at an interim site such as, say, Freedom Hall.
If Lexington and UK decide to reinvent Rupp rather than build a new arena, the school's other requests include:
■ Rupp's capacity shouldn't be reduced.
■ A new Rupp should wow fans and not be a superficial makeover.
■ Maintain an intimidating home-court advantage.
■ Coach John Calipari and his future successors must be able to use the new Rupp as a recruiting tool.
■ A collegiate atmosphere is a must (no open bars and, presumably, we consider the indoor fireworks during player introductions as thoroughly modern sis boom bah).
Let's make a deal
The origins of Monday's Kentucky-Morehouse exhibition go back to John Calipari's appearance on the ESPN-sponsored National Town Hall last January.
Morehouse Coach Grady Brewer took his team to the panel discussion, which coincided with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
As Brewer recalled, Calipari noticed the Morehouse players in the front row. The UK coach asked whether this was Brewer's team.
When told it was, Calipari complimented the players and asked whether he could pose for a picture with them.
"I said, 'Sure,' " Brewer said. "But I said, 'In return, I would like to have a game with you up in Kentucky. I'd love my kids to experience Rupp Arena and Kentucky.'"
The Morehouse coach had a formidable ally in film director Spike Lee, a Morehouse graduate (class of 1979) and another panelist in the town hall meeting.
"Yeah," Lee said in echoing the coach's request, "that would be nice."
Brewer could not say whether Lee might attend Monday's game or even sit on the Morehouse bench.
"Spike is Spike," Brewer said. "If he wants to, he could. No problem. I just don't want him to get a technical foul."
Lee attends a few Morehouse games each season, Brewer said. "He's done it before," the coach said. "He's usually quiet."
Kentucky recoils from any suggestion it play "home" games in Freedom Hall during a possible renovation of Rupp Arena. Fortunately for UK, it appears highly unlikely that the program will need to find an interim home court.
But such inconvenience happens. UCLA will play at alternative sites this season as Pauley Pavilion undergoes a renovation.
South Florida will play at three sites this season as its Sun Dome undergoes a $36.5 million renovation. The Bulls will play one game in Lakeland, Fla., which is about 30 miles from campus, three games at the University of Tampa and 12 games in the St. Pete Times Forum.
"There are things you can control in life and things you can't control," USF Coach Stan Heath said. "This is one of those things I can't control. ... We just have to make the best of it. But it does have some inconvenience to it."
For instance, USF played an exhibition at the University of Tampa on Saturday. The Bulls got to practice in the gym on Thursday, but they did not get into the gym again until pre-game warm-ups.
This has Heath pondering whether to have the team get hotel rooms closer to the home-away-from-home sites the days of games. "So we don't have to get through traffic back and forth," he said.
USF has a satellite campus in Lakeland, which explains that "home" game, which serves the dual purpose of granting alumni their wish of a game in that city.
When asked how he sells the quirky home schedule to his players, Heath said, "We've got to be road warriors. ... Maybe the travel part will make us a little more comfortable when we go on the road. We've got to look at it as a positive."
Dividing the SEC
With the Southeastern Conference expanding to 13 or 14 teams, reader Robert Ballard wondered how the league will split into football divisions. A self-described "big traditionalist," he thought that the SEC should put a priority on preserving rivalries.
"I love the rivalries," Ballard wrote in an email. "I am saddened, for example, that Texas-Texas A&M could not be like Florida-Florida State. I used to live in Texas and Florida — great because no state income tax, by the way — and those games were always big each year, regardless of how the teams fared otherwise."
Texas A&M joins the SEC next year, and Missouri seems on the way.
Ballard suggested the SEC abandon Eastern and Western divisions. Instead, the league should emphasize rivalries.
"Why not do like the ACC and have two divisions — call them whatever — but not geographically?" he asked.
Here's how Ballard would divide SEC football:
One division: Kentucky, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Alabama, Auburn, Louisiana State and Missouri.
"That keeps the Ky.-Tenn., Tenn.-Ala. and Ala.-Auburn rivalries," he wrote.
Another division: Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Texas A&M, Arkansas, Mississippi State and Mississippi.
That preserves Florida-Georgia, Texas A&M-Arkansas and Ole Miss-Mississippi State.
Ballard, 59, grew up in Oldham County and is a longtime UK fan. He attended Morehead State. "If UK and Morehead played at the same time, most students would watch or listen to the UK game rather than go to the Morehead game," he wrote. "And we could attend all home games with our student ID."
For Ballard, college sports has lost some of its charm, which makes rivalries all the more important. "I regret that this is such a big business," he wrote. "Takes a lot of the fun out of it."
UK in the UK
Reader Robert Ballard is a Kentucky fan who has lived in Belfast, Northern Ireland, the last two years. He's a missionary who works at the Townsend Street Presbyterian Church in what he called the lower Shankill. He tries to bring about a reconciliation between the country's sectarian factions.
In that environment, Ballard has to be careful about any references to UK.
"Here in Northern Ireland, there is tension between those who oppose the United Kingdom (UK) and those who are loyal to the Crown," he wrote in an email. "Therefore, the term 'UK' is very sensitive. These groups have been killing each other for the past 40+ years. Tensions are still here even though the violence has lessened."
Therefore, Ballard must choose wisely when he decides to wear Kentucky regalia.
"I had to find shirts with 'Kentucky' rather than 'UK,' " he wrote, "or else those who see it would see the UK and think I have taken a side."
Reader Tom Balko offered his view of the famous Christian Laettner shot that beat UK in the 1992 NCAA Tournament. Balko suggested that credit should go to Duke rather than blame to Kentucky.
"Not surprisingly, Duke's coach knew not to have a smaller player inbound the ball," Balko wrote in an email. "The long inbounds pass mimics the motion of a quarterback. And like for tall QBs, even a tall defender is virtually helpless in deflecting a long, high-arcing throw. Coach (Rick) Pitino was right to assign two defenders — one in front, one behind — to cover Laettner.
"But the pass was too high, and Laettner smartly kept the ball too high for UK's smaller defenders to disrupt the shot. Given the size and long arms of the two Duke players, the play was virtually unstoppable."
Balko, 59, is a UK graduate in the class of 1975. He's a retired state employee who has rooted for Kentucky since Rupp's Runts.
Thomas offers camp
Former UK player Irving Thomas hopes to expand a basketball camp he organized in his hometown of Miami this summer and make it a year-round program. The idea is to expose children not only to basketball as a playing career, but also to the other jobs associated with the sport.
Toward that end, Thomas had a Miami television sports anchor speak to the campers about electronic journalism as a career. Former North Carolina center Sam Perkins spoke to the campers about what players can do after retirement. (Perkins' interests include the Special Olympics.) Miami's chief of police spoke about the importance of obeying the law and keeping a clean record.
"My philosophy is to catch these kids at a younger age and expose them to possibilities," Thomas said.
Thomas staged the first weeklong summer camp in his home area of Miami Gardens. Now he wants to expand to more schools throughout Miami.
The program's Web site is EBA.vpweb.com.
In his latest newsletter, finance professor Joe Peek took exception to UK's relationship with the group known as Friends of Coal.
Peek, one of the faculty representatives on UK's Board of Trustees, wrote:
"Midnight Madness was a total sell out — of course, unfortunately, I am referring to the fact that it was sponsored by Fiends of Coal. Some have argued that having these sorts of sponsors of the UK vs. U of L football game and now Midnight Madness may lead to coal-lateral damage to, and a coal-lapse of our reputation, except among the coal-blooded coal-onialists."
To former UK player Chuck Verderber. He turned 52 on Thursday. ... To Doron Lamb. He turns 20 today. ... To former UK Coach Billy Gillispie. He turns 52 on Monday.