Sports

Big change, Big money

Kentucky gets support from Lexington officials to explore the feasibility of a privately financed $400 million project that includes a new downtown basketball arena.

The Southeastern Conference announces a $2.2 billion, 15-year television deal with ESPN.

These August developments lead to one unmistakable conclusion: the dollar figures associated with athletics sure are getting big.

Before UK unveiled its consideration of a new arena, Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy noted a key factor propelling such projects: the need to increase revenue.

"From an administrative standpoint, they're always thinking about generating revenue ... ," Kennedy said. "You've got to continue to feed this machine. And how do you do that? You do that by creating premium seating."

Luxury boxes. Loge seating. Club seating.

All figure to be part of a new UK arena. None connote a collegiate atmosphere. But to be feasible, this project must generate enough revenue to justify a nine-figure investment.

UK Deputy Director of Athletics Rob Mullens offered a reassuring note. If the project comes to fruition (and has any feasibility study concluded with "forget about it?"), he said that maintaining a college atmosphere will be a high priority.

"We want to make sure that we maintain or even enhance a tremendous home-court advantage," Mullens said. "That's important in college basketball."

UK will want good sightlines for fans and an "intimate environment," Mullens said.

Bruce Johnson, an economics professor at Centre College and someone who studies the financial side of sports, sounded sure that UK fans should expect a new arena will mean higher ticket prices.

"Oh, they're going to go up," he said before adding a qualifier, "Assuming they have about the same level of seating overall."

This isn't to suggest that Kentucky athletic officials want to exploit its famously rabid fans. Those who study college finances say UK football and basketball tickets are a real bargain, relatively speaking.

But Mullens held out the possibility of no increase in ticket prices.

"It's way too early to speculate on that," he said. Conclusions from the feasibility study aren't due until next year. The arena is years away.

Mullens noted how the revenue from luxury boxes, club seating, loge seats and who knows what other options can act to hold down what Joe and Jill Sixpack pay for seats in the proletarian sections.

Meanwhile, the influence of money only figures to grow.

The name of Adolph Rupp, the founding father of UK basketball and the coach who guided the Cats to four national champions, will probably go off the arena where Kentucky plays.

Most likely a corporate name goes on, which, to look at the money in a positive way, could also be a hedge against higher ticket prices.

Rotary redux

Kentucky basketball coach Billy Gillispie committed a faux pas last year when he chose not to speak to the Lexington Rotary Club. UK coaches have given the club a preview of the season going back to Adolph Rupp and at least the 1950s. Some members think the tradition dates to the 1930s.

Last year, Gillispie, who was about to begin his first season as UK coach, failed to show, which caused much consternation among Rotarians.

Basketball traditionalists and Rotarians will be happy to know that UK's basketball office has made arrangements for Gillispie to appear on Oct. 9.

Rotary chairperson Nell Main noted how happy members were to know Gillispie will come and offer his thoughts on the upcoming season. She also welcomed the resumption of the long-standing tradition.

Gillispie never said why he did not speak to the Lexington Rotary Club last year. Here's four possible reasons.

1. He was new. Maybe Gillispie did not know about the tradition, and UK's decision to hire new office staffers left no one around to inform the coach of this charming, no-risk tradition.

2. He didn't want to go. Coaches and speaking engagements mix like oil and water. Coaches typically believe they can better spend their time in other ways. For instance, sharpening their pencils or alphabetizing their CDs.

3. He believed he would be setting a dangerous precedent. See No. 2 and imagine that every Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions and Shriners club in a 100-mile radius would argue that Gillispie should come to their clubs, too.

However, the Lexington Rotary Club does not consider itself just another civic organization. More than a few of its 365 members contribute to the K Fund.

4. He was busy. Gillispie was in the midst of stirring up a recruiting storm, which continues to produce noticeable gusts. Plus, he was also setting a tone for the program, figuring out what talent he had on his first Kentucky team and how to meld it to his system.

Three-point lines

Reader Mike Wynn noticed that the UK women's team will not play in Rupp Arena this coming season. He wondered if this was because UK and/or Rupp Arena wanted to avoid the confusion of two three-point lines on the court: one for women (the previous 19 feet, nine inches from the basket) and one for men (the new 20 feet, nine inches).

So we asked.

UK's Deputy Director of Athletics, Rob Mullens, noted that women's coach Matthew Mitchell has wanted to establish Memorial Coliseum as his team's home. Plus, scheduling in Rupp Arena is difficult because of conflicts not only with the men's team but with other entertainment attractions.

The number of three-point lines on the court had nothing to do with it.

Besides, Bill Owen, the CEO and president of the Lexington Center Corp., said last week that the Rupp Arena floor will have two three-point lines. You just won't be able to see both of them.

Huh?

Owen reminded us that Rupp Arena will be home to the Sweet 16, which will use the 19-9 line. And the UK women's team will continue to have the option of scheduling games in Rupp.

So there will be a need for the old line. It will be a quarter-inch thick and be a shade similar to the court. Think the center-court circle, which is hard to see from the stands, but it's there.

The muted 19-9 three-point line will serve as a marker. When Rupp needs the shorter line, tape will be applied along the guideline to make it easier to see.

By the way, Wynn described himself as a UK fan first and foremost.

"I have often said if I did get a tattoo it would be the interlocking U and K," he wrote in an e-mail. "Because girls/women will come and go but my devotion to UK will always be the same."

Wynn said he's told family and friends to bury him in a UK shirt rather than a suit.

"Upon my demise, don't put me in a suit but in a UK polo if you want people who know me to say 'Oh doesn't he look natural?'" he wrote.

Proffitt sharing

Former South Laurel star Ty Proffitt, who visited UK last week as he looked for a new school, noted the importance of playing time in his decision.

He'd like to play enough to enhance the possibility of continuing to play after college.

"A pro career in Europe is very feasible for me," he said. "Even though I'd love to make it here, the chances are slim to none for a player like me."

Player like you?

"White," Proffitt said with a laugh. "I'm not the most athletic player. I can't put my arm all the way through the rim. I try to outsmart the other person."

The timing of the transfer seemed puzzling. Most transfers happen in the spring.

"I've always been thinking about it as a possibility," he said. "I loved it so much at Notre Dame. I loved the guys and the coaches. I had to keep emotion out of it."

Good name

Assuming he is a UK player, Donald Williams is something of an X-factor. Analyst Bob Gibbons saw him play over Memorial Day weekend and liked what he saw. Otherwise, recruiting experts hadn't seen Williams or had put him on the back burner. They projected him as headed for prep school and a member of the Class of 2009.

Then, Williams improved his academic status this summer, became a member of the Class of 2008 and, reportedly (by Rivals.com initially), joined the UK team. When asked about Williams, UK has taken a stance of no confirmation and no denial.

Analyst Brick Oettinger confessed that he had not watched Williams play. But he said the player had a promising name.

Another guard named Donald Williams was Final Four MVP after leading North Carolina to the 1993 national championship. And a Don "Duck" Williams played well as a guard for Notre Dame in the 1970s.

"If this guy is as good a wing guard as either one of those guys, we should know more about him," Oettinger said. "You have to say he's got a great name for a wing guard."

Makenna Foundation

The ninth annual auction to benefit the Makenna Foundation will be Friday evening at RE/MAX Creative Realty (corner of Palumbo and Man o' War). Proceeds benefit the Makenna David Pediatric Emergency Center at the Kentucky Children's Hospital.

Among the items available at the silent and live auctions are lower arena tickets for the UK-Indiana game and a Detroit Pistons jersey signed by former UK star Tayshaun Prince.

Other items include jerseys autographed by Brett Favre and Brandon Webb and travel packages to the 2009 NASCAR race in Bristol, Tenn.

The auction will be from 6 to 11 p.m. Tickets are $60 in advance and $70 at the door. Tickets can be bought by calling Sheila David at (859) 422-2010 or via e-mail at info@makennafoundation.org.

Happy birthday

To former UK player Bob Guyette. He turned 55 on Friday.

We'll get to his family (doing well) and his life (fine and dandy) later. But, first, a Guyette story about throwing his basketball lot with Kentucky.

By coincidence, the day Guyette told Coach Adolph Rupp he was coming to UK, John Wooden called. Wooden invited Guyette to make a recruiting visit UCLA.

Guyette thanked Wooden for the interest, but told the UCLA coach he'd stay with the commitment to Kentucky.

Rather than hang up the phone as quickly as possible and get to the next prospect, Wooden engaged Guyette in a two-hour conversation. Hard to fathom in the modern age of instant communication and recruiting as a never-ending story.

"He talked about how to be successful, the importance of studying, to have other interests," Guyette said of Wooden's advice. "From that point forward, I had a tremendous respect for him."

Life must have been nicer in such a civilized time.

Twenty-five years later, Guyette took one of his sons to a basketball camp where Wooden was a guest speaker.

"He remembered who I was and how many points I scored against him in the (1975) championship game," Guyette said.

Guyette took the opportunity to ask Wooden about what it takes to be successful. The former UK player wanted his son, who stood with the men, to hear the same advice the UCLA coach gave to him years earlier.

As for his birthday, Guyette said he was "doing fantastic." He and his wife Gina, a native of Pendleton County, celebrated their 31st wedding anniversary on Tuesday.

They have three sons: Rob, 27, a Marine who flies F-18s; Kevin, 25, a pitcher good enough to be drafted by the Boston Red Sox and now looking for a second chance at baseball after undergoing Tommy John surgery last August, and Brian, 21, a graduate of the Air Force Academy (where he played goalie on the soccer team) and about to begin pilot training.

Though living in the retirement destination of Arizona, Guyette is hardly slowing down. He's an oral surgeon, among the founders and board members of a bank, an innovator who's placing medical clinics in some Arizona grocery stores and involved in real estate.

Speaking of real estate, Guyette hopes to visit Lexington in October. He's always wanted to build a home in central Kentucky and will be looking for a suitable plot of land.

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