Never mind the impossible-to-prove boast of being the gold standard. Kentucky really is the Roman Empire of college basketball attendance. But barring a surprise, it appears barbarians from Syracuse will sack UK this year.
Thanks, in part, to an attractive home schedule created by its entry into the Atlantic Coast Conference, Syracuse averages 3,000-plus more fans than Kentucky for home games this season (25,826 to 22,662). With each school having only four more home games, it's all but certain that Syracuse will snap UK's streak of eight straight seasons (and 17 of the last 18) as the nation's leader in average home attendance.
Kentucky basketball's outsized popularity is undeniable. Big crowds braving ice and snow to get to several home games this season, not to mention the tornado watch the night UK played Eastern Michigan, suggested that fan devotion remains undimmed. However, the announced attendance at UK home games is usually not the number you see in the stands.
Open records obtained by the Herald-Leader indicate about a 20-percent markup in attendance figures so far this season. That is to say, Lexington Center Corp. counts the ticket holders admitted into Rupp Arena, then UK announces an official attendance that is about 20 percent larger. UK's average announced attendance for home games this season is 22,662. The average number of ticket holders in Rupp Arena has been 18,110.
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DeWayne Peevy, deputy director of athletics, acknowledged that determining an announced attendance is "kind of an imperfect science."
Here's how the discrepancy happens:
Lexington Center Corp. workers scan the tickets of fans who enter Rupp Arena. The number of ticketed fans in seats so far this season exceeded 20,000 for only three games: Belmont (20,480), Louisville (22,699) and Tennessee (20,842).
Lexington Center Corp. uses that number, in part, to help determine how many concession workers and other employees to assign to future games, said Bill Owen, the CEO and president of LCC.
That "scan number" is given to UK officials during a game. To arrive at an announced attendance figure, UK then factors the total number of tickets sold, whether or not the ticket holder is actually there. Then, UK basically adds anyone else drawing a breath in Rupp Arena: media types, band members, cheerleaders, dance team members, referees, security, players, coaches, concession workers, LCC employees and Committee of 101 ushers. No announced attendance has been less than 20,000 so far this season.
Peevy acknowledged that the announced attendance is an estimate. He also questioned the accuracy of the scan count. Owen said he considered the scan count consistently reliable.
The NCAA keeps attendance figures as one of its statistics. But the NCAA offers no guidelines on who should and shouldn't be counted. It is assumed that everyone makes its estimates in more or less the same way.
"The numbers reported in the annual basketball attendance report are what is provided to us by each school and/or conference," NCAA spokesman Cameron Schuh said in an email. "Not every school counts attendance in the same way. Some count as paid, some count as counted and some count as estimated. As a membership-led organization, we depend on the membership (the schools) to be honest and accurate."
Syracuse spokesman Peter Moore said the school bases its announced attendance on tickets sold and/or distributed. Syracuse, which also includes media types in its count, has announced crowds in excess of 30,000 for three games: Duke (35,446), North Carolina (32,121) and Pittsburgh (30,046).
There is a consistency to UK's announced attendance figures. Open records obtained by the Herald-Leader showed a 16-percent markup in announced attendance last season. The average scan count was 19,366. The average announced attendance was 23,099.
Former athletics director Larry Ivy said attendance was not a footnote for Kentucky in his many years at UK. It was important.
"Leading the nation every year in attendance is one of those things you'd like to continue to do," he said. "I think Kentucky is a premier program. So, obviously, you'd want the number to be there."
One man, one vote
On his radio show Monday, John Calipari implied that a voter in a college basketball poll dropped Kentucky from a top-10 position the week before to completely off the ballot because the Cats lost at LSU.
If Calipari meant The Associated Press media poll he was inaccurate.
Jim O'Connell, the longtime college basketball editor for the wire service, said Kentucky appeared on all 65 ballots in last week's AP poll.
Last week's article about how John Calipari's history of rallying teams or himself around us-versus-them rhetoric explored a question the UK coach himself raised: Was he paranoid to sense shadowy forces hoping to bring down Kentucky or keenly perceptive?
UK fan John Goff called to say he sees a far-reaching, wide-ranging prejudice against UK.
"I do have some paranoia," he said. "Everybody is against Kentucky."
What causes this axis of ill will? "Jealousy," said Goff, who noted how he rooted against UCLA in its dynasty years of 1964 through 1975.
In Goff's view, television commentators are not objective. He referred to Jay Bilas as Jay Bias. (True confession: I applaud the wit.)
The "talking heads," as he put it, are "quick to find something to criticize Calipari, Kentucky or UK fans instead of complimenting our great, wonderful culture and great, wonderful fans."
Goff, 57 and living in Hazard, said the ill will aligned against Kentucky extends to the referees.
"I have seldom seen a game where I could definitely say we got a fair shake from the zebras," he said.
Fan Della Erwin also suggested that jealousy fueled the anti-UK bias that John Calipari noted.
"Do you think being very jealous of the coach and his achievements has anything to do with it?" she asked in an email. "Or is it because he is the most handsome coach on ANY team!!!!"
Erwin, 81, said she had been a UK fan since moving to Lexington in 1963.
She is not blindly supportive of UK basketball.
"I don't like the 'one-and-done' style at all," she wrote. "I would like to see the boys graduate before leaving the team. There's plenty of time left to go pro after they get their degree."
When John Calipari coached the New Jersey Nets, there was speculation that he or his assistants planted friendly callers on New York's WFAN radio sports talk show. Apparently, some callers were suspiciously pro-Cal.
Michael Rowe, who at the time was president of the Nets, could not confirm.
"I don't know that for a fact," he said. "But that would not surprise me. That's something you would not expect a head coach of an NBA team to be involved in."
Hitting the wall
Last week, UK assistant coach Orlando Antigua acknowledged that all freshmen probably hit the metaphoric wall about this time of the season. He said the UK coaches combat this issue by making practices especially grueling, so the games are relatively light lifting.
Texas A&M Coach Billy Kennedy said you had to "train them and trick them" into believing they were not tired in games.
Ultimately, the freshmen must simply endure and persevere.
"Be tougher," Kennedy said. "That's the bottom line. They've got to step up and mature and grow up. That's probably the most important part of it."
Before last week's game, Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy said it would be difficult for his team to beat Kentucky in Rupp Arena.
"Cal's 1,000 and two there," he said.
Actually, the victory over Ole Miss improved John Calipari's home record as UK coach to 81-2.
Florida was riding high into this weekend. But the Gators face a tough week ahead with games at Tennessee on Tuesday and at Kentucky on Saturday.
The following week is no picnic, either. Florida faces a suddenly hot Auburn at midweek before playing at Ole Miss on the weekend.
When Vandy beat Texas A&M on Jan. 25, junior James Siakam led the way with 22 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks.
"He had, arguably, one of the worst practices the day before the game," Vandy Coach Kevin Stallings said. So the standout performance was "not exactly something we saw coming. But James has been good for us recently. ... When he comes through like that, we're an entirely different-looking team."
Syndicated columnist Norman Chad found one Super Bowl commercial difficult to accept.
"Bob Dylan for Chrysler?" he wrote. "What's next, Franz Kafka for Skittles?"
To John Calipari. He turns 55 on Monday. ... To Ramel Bradley. "Smooth" turned 29 on Wednesday. ... To Josh Harrellson. He turns 25 next Wednesday. ... To Winston Bennett. He turns 49 today. ... To Leroy Byrd. He turns 51 on Tuesday. ... To Andy Dumstorf, forever a footnote as the staffer UK fired because he was a Louisville fan. He turns 50 on Wednesday. ... To Henry Thomas. He turned 43 on Saturday. ... Belated Happy Birthday to Doug Barnes. The former UK assistant coach turned 68 on Feb. 1.