Schedules for Kentucky and other traditional powers reflect a supplementary truth about Sunday night's Giants-Patriots championship game. Super Bowl Sunday represents more than a crowning of pro football's champion. It also marks the unofficial beginning of college basketball season.
After the Super Bowl, sports fans in ever greater numbers turn their attention to college basketball. Of course, this is outside Kentucky, where the unblinking gaze remains fixed on UK basketball.
Television decision makers, who naturally seek the largest audience possible, try to schedule the most appealing games possible. As if that's not enough incentive, Feb. 2-29 is also a "sweeps period," when TV ratings are calculated to form the basis for advertising rates. The larger the audience, the more a station/network can charge for advertising.
So Kentucky's schedule the remainder of the season is loaded with difficult (read: must-see TV) matchups. This coming week, which ESPN designated as "Rivalry Week," includes UK's games against Florida on Tuesday and at Vanderbilt on Saturday.
Before the Southeastern Conference Tournament March 8-11, Kentucky will have played Florida twice, Vanderbilt twice and Mississippi State once.
For the 10th time in the last 11 seasons, Kentucky ends the regular season against Florida. That's no coincidence.
"We like tradition here at CBS," said Mike Aresco, a vice president for programming at CBS Sports. "Two marquee coaches, teams and programs that are always pretty good. That was a natural as a season-ending game."
When asked whether UK-at-Florida on March 4 serves to whet the appetite for CBS's coverage of the NCAA Tournament, Aresco said, "Absolutely."
Florida still has two games against UK, one against Vandy, plus a road trip to Alabama. Vandy has two with UK and one with Florida.
Outside the SEC, Duke and North Carolina will play twice. Ohio State has two with Michigan State, one with Wisconsin and a trip to Michigan. Syracuse plays Louisville and Connecticut twice each.
Mark Whitworth, an associate commissioner of the SEC, explained how the league works with its TV partners.
"CBS will tell us the games they want, and they also will tell us the dates and the windows (tip-off times)," Whitworth said.
League rules limit CBS to only five Kentucky games, two of which must be in the non-conference portion of the schedule. This season, CBS picked UK games against North Carolina and Louisville. As for next season, Aresco said the word in TV circles is that Kentucky will not play North Carolina. So CBS plans to select UK games against Louisville and Indiana.
As for SEC games, CBS took Kentucky games against Alabama (Jan. 21), Vandy (Feb. 25) and Florida (March 4).
"We didn't back load it as much as we have," Aresco said. "Some years, all three (UK games) are in February."
After CBS makes its picks, ESPN selects its Super Tuesday lineup of SEC games. If it plans a GameDay show at an SEC school, ESPN also selects that game.
From there, the pecking order descends to ESPN2, ESPNU, the SEC Network and regional deals with Fox and CSS.
"I wouldn't say it's all TV driven," Whitworth said of SEC scheduling. The league insists on such rules as no more than two straight road games, no team playing on Tuesday and Thursday of the same week and no rematches within a 10-day period.
But it's largely driven by TV with what Coach John Calipari likes to call the Kentucky Effect a significant factor.
Vanderbilt Coach Kevin Stallings made a good point. The SEC office just wishes he'd kept it to himself.
OK, that's not fair. The SEC office probably wishes Stallings had used internal channels to voice concern about this season's Thursday-Saturday schedule.
South Carolina became the third Kentucky opponent in the last four Saturdays to have played less than 48 hours earlier. In all, UK plays a quarter of its league schedule against such opponents.
"That's not right," Stallings said before going silent on the subject.
"The commissioner (Mike Slive) is very sensitive to the needs and wishes of the coaches," SEC basketball consultant C.M. Newton said recently. "I hate for it to become a public issue. It should be (handled) in-house."
SEC associate commissioner Mark Whitworth acknowledged last week that any imbalance in the Thursday-Saturday schedule merited evaluation. As of now, teams are limited to how many times they must play on a Thursday and Saturday of the same week. But as UK's schedule suggests, there's no limit to how many times a team may face an opponent playing its second game within 48 hours.
"I would not be surprised to see us modify our parameters even further to make sure we provide the most equitable and balanced schedule for everybody," Whitworth said. "We certainly understand why that's a concern, and it's part of the learning process."
Only a notion
A scene in the Woody Allen movie Annie Hall came to mind while digesting last week's unveiling of Lexington's Arena, Arts and Entertainment District Task Force report. The 90-minute presentation detailed a $200 million-plus project that includes a sweeping reinvention of Rupp Arena, a new Lexington Convention Center, underground Town Branch Creek being brought to the surface and then collecting rain water to double its flow, and a new park and outdoor amphitheater.
It's important to recall the Hollywood party scene in Annie Hall. One man tells the other, "Right now, it's only a notion. But I think I can get the money to make it into a concept and later turn it into an idea."
By this gauge, the Task Force report — slide show, graphs, charts, drawings, et al — is only a notion.
As presented, the Task Force report would renovate Rupp Arena and raze the existing Lexington Convention Center. Those structures underwent a $50 million-plus renovation from 2000 to 2004. That renovation included the issuing of $20 million in bonds, which are not expected to be paid off until 2022.
How does that expense and effort factor into Lexington's plans?
It's too early to know. The Task Force report, which Lexington paid for by raising $350,000 in private funds, is only an appetizer. Gov. Steve Beshear's recommendation of an allocation of $3.5 million in state bonds to the project suggests a move to the salad course is possible. It would bring a more serious look at the project.
At this stage, Lexington's leaders are checking their wallets while looking at the menu. The entree, if and when it comes, hasn't been ordered.
More Rupp seats?
Stan Harvey, a principal in the urban-design firm of Urban Collage and project manager for Lexington's Arena, Arts and Entertainment District Task Force, said a feasibility study shows that 800 to 1,000 seats could be added in the lower deck in a renovation of Rupp Arena. This additional seating would be carved from the small tunnel, off the main concourse, where there are bathrooms, storage and room for support services. Those facilities could be moved.
The proposed renovation would decrease seating capacity in the upper arena, with premium boxes and chair-back seats replacing the metal bleachers.
As Harvey explained to Herald-Leader reporter Beverly Fortune, the two scenarios almost balance out evenly. The result would be a modest increase of 100 seats to Rupp Arena's capacity.
Don't forget that planners envision an auxiliary venue outside Rupp that could accommodate, say 3,000 fans watching on a big screen. Think that venue outside the stadium at Wimbledon.
One of UK's priorities in a renovation is that capacity not be decreased.
Architect Gary Bates noted how UK fans pack into Rupp Arena.
"As an architect, as a planner, as a guy who loves basketball, the fan (experience) is the most important thing ..." Bates told the Task Force last week. "Basketball, for me, has never been about sushi and champagne. Basketball is about 24,000 people, all having one goal: sitting close together — some in suits, some in sweat pants — yelling and screaming their heads off."
Bates, who attended UK's game against Tennessee last week, called Rupp Arena "probably the densest basketball arena in the United States, that probably means in the world, as well.
"There are 24,000 people on the smallest possible footprint you can get them. People want to know what is one of the success factors of Rupp Arena? It's having 24,000 people breathing down your neck."
Bates likened the ground space occupied by Rupp Arena to Florida's O'Connell Center.
"Florida (has) exactly the same footprint as we have here," he said before noting the difference in capacities. "... It's a big difference to have 12,000 people in that footprint and 24,000 people. And that's what we have."
Not deterred by long odds, Mitch Barnhart will present Kentucky's case for the SEC schedule remaining at 16 games when he addresses his fellow athletics directors late this month. He will not be optimistic of winning enough votes to block a move to an 18-game league schedule beginning next season.
"I'd say I'm in the minority," Barnhart said. "Dramatically."
Part of Barnhart's argument will be a variation of the famous quotation attributed to John F. Kennedy: A rising tide lifts all boats. In this case, Barnhart will argue that what's good for Kentucky is good for the SEC. Given the many non-conference obligations (traditional opponents Indiana, Louisville and North Carolina, plus the SEC-Big East challenge, plus the double-header involving Duke, Kansas and Michigan State), it's better for Kentucky that league schedules stay at 16 games. Thus, it's better for the SEC.
If UK suffers, so does the SEC, the argument goes.
"We have to be the showcase program for the league," Barnhart said. "We think we're called to do that."
Of course, Kentucky is an exceptional program in the SEC. Other schools have much more of a problem filling their dance cards with non-conference opponents, thus the move to 18 games to help strengthen the Ratings Percentage Index numbers of other league teams.
Kentucky also wants the revenue generated by as many home games as possible. A home-and-home series with traditional non-conference rivals, plus two more SEC games puts a squeeze on UK, Barnhart said. So, sigh, Indiana, Louisville or North Carolina could be pushed off UK's schedule.
During his signing-day news conference, UK football Coach Joker Phillips noted John Calipari's willingness to help.
"Very few big– time Division I coaches in men's basketball are willing to open up their locker room at the 30– minute mark (before games) and let some high school football recruits come in," Phillips said.
The football prospects get to hear Calipari's pre-game talk to the basketball team.
"I appreciate Coach Cal for doing that," Phillips said.
To honor Hall
Former UK Coach Joe B. Hall will be honored at the 24th annual Central Kentucky Heart and Stroke Ball, which will be held Feb. 25 in the Bluegrass Ballroom at Lexington Center.
Many former players are expected to attend. Those players include Jimmy Dan Conner, Kevin Grevey and Bob Guyette, members of UK's "Super Kittens." The 40th anniversary of the Super Kittens' arrival as a celebrated freshman class will be recognized at Kentucky's game against Vanderbilt earlier on Feb. 25.
Ten-seat tables for the Ball are $2,000. Individual tickets can be bought at $200 each. Proceeds benefit the American Heart Association.
For more information or to make a donation in Hall's name, fans can call Mike Turner at (859) 977-4605 or go online at www.heart.org/lexingtonkyheartball.
To John Calipari. The UK coach turns 53 on Friday. ... To former Athletics Director C.M. Newton. He turned 82 on Thursday. ... To Andre Riddick. He turned 39 on Wednesday. ... To Walter McCarty. He turned 38 on Wednesday. ... To Ramel Bradley. He turns 27 today. ... To Truman Claytor. He turned 55 on Thursday. ... To Stan Key. He turned 62 on Thursday.