Kentucky's decision to more than triple the donation required to be eligible to buy a ticket in the first four rows of Rupp Arena next season brought a strong — and negative — response from fans in the affected seating.
"I am absolutely — what word can I use? — I'm horrified," Lexington businessman Bill Morgan said when asked his reaction. "How's that?"
That's strong. But Ambrose Givens, a retiree who figures (correctly) that he'd have to pay more than $20,000 to keep his four seats, dropped what the well-to-do set might consider the ultimate insult.
"Hell, that's almost an Obama type of thing," Givens said in a reference to President Barack Obama's stated desire to roll back his predecessor's tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. "The way he picks out those he thinks can pay this thing and taken advantage of the situation."
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In this case, the "he" is UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart, who got approval last week to raise ticket prices and also increase the required donations to the K Fund for priority seating.
Most of the affected 8,140 priority seats will have an increase of $100 to $400 per ticket. But for the 512 seats closest to the court, the required donation to the K Fund will rise from $1,350 to $5,000 per ticket.
Lexington businessman David Caldwell, who has two seats in the first four rows, noted that the increase comes during poor economic times for many Kentuckians. He also mentioned that fans are being asked to pay more in a year that Southeastern Conference schools shared a record $209 million (a 57.7-percent increase from the previous year).
This year also saw CBS and Turner Broadcasting reportedly agree to pay $10.8 billion for the right to televise the NCAA Tournament from 2011 through 2024.
"It just seems to be a little beyond the scope they should need to operate a successful program," Caldwell said.
After the UK Athletic Association Board of Directors formally approved the rate increases for basketball tickets beginning next season, Barnhart said he wanted to use the expected $3.6 million revenue boost to create a fund for acutely needed facility upgrades.
People in the first four rows did not accept that explanation.
"In my opinion, they're gouging us now," said Morgan, owner of a tire business in Lexington and a longtime supporter of UK athletics. "When they build a new arena, they'll gouge us later, too. I mean, it will be a double hammer on us or double whammy."
In talking to about 10 ticket holders in the first four rows, none accepted the price hike as something UK could not do without. They couldn't understand why UK asked someone in the fourth row to donate more than three times the previous amount while those in the fifth row are asked to pay $400 more per seat. They suggested UK should have gradually incorporated the hike rather than delivering the higher fee in one super-sized bill.
Givens noted that the season-ticket package at previous prices was not a consistent bargain in terms of competitive basketball. "You have to buy about six tickets to games that, hell, you don't even know where the (opposing) schools are," he said.
More than one saw a conspiracy: UK athletic officials really want people accustomed to a range of lower prices to refuse to renew season tickets next season so the school can then sell those same seats to new customers more willing to pay higher and higher amounts.
Though unhappy, none of the present ticket holders said he would not renew his ticket order.
Givens came closest, saying he might buy two rather than his customary four tickets. "I don't feel I've been treated right," he said.
Morgan, a UK graduate as was his grandfather, sounded powerless.
"UK is kind of holding us hostage," he said. "We're UK through and through. But, man alive."
Morgan had a plan to keep affording his tickets. "Instead of Bud Light," he said, "I'll have to drink water."
Question: What is the eligibility status of Enes Kanter?
Answer: His status is under review by the NCAA's Eligibility Center (by the way, that is the proper term. There is no "Clearing House.")
Q: Has Kanter cleared either the academic or amateurism hurdles needed to gain eligibility?
A: He has been cleared academically. Since he played for a professional team in his native Turkey, his amateurism status is being reviewed.
Q: If he is not fully eligible, can Kanter play with or even accompany the Kentucky team on a three-game exhibition series in Canada on Aug. 15-17?
A: Since his eligibility is under review by the NCAA Eligibility Center, he is not allowed to travel and receive related expenses from the institution. This would preclude him from traveling and playing in Canada.
Q: If he is not fully eligible, can Kanter practice with the Kentucky team?
A: The NCAA told the SEC on July 20 that Kanter would be allowed to practice with the team while awaiting a final certification decision.
Q: What is the likely outcome?
A: The best guess is that like John Wall a year ago, Kanter will have to sit out a game or games as part of a process to gain eligibility.
Former UK coach Tubby Smith and wife Donna became grandparents for the first time last weekend with the birth of Jayna Smith.
Her parents are Smith's oldest son, G.G., and his wife Lorie.
"Wonderful," Smith said of becoming a grandfather. "Nothing greater."
Tubby and Donna were in Baltimore for the birth. G.G. is an assistant coach at Loyola (Maryland).
"She's got big old hands and big feet," Tubby said after putting on his recruiter's cap. "But all babies seem to have that."
The birth of Jayna Smith came in an eventful summer for the former UK coach. He went to Africa for the first time, for a church missionary trip to Kenya. While there, they went on a safari in Tanzania.
Which are the most popular sports franchises? Sportsfangraph.com takes a stab at that question by listing the athletic entities that generate the most traffic on Twitter and Facebook.
In the rankings of NCAA teams and/or schools, UK was No. 2. The runaway leader at No. 1 was Ohio State.
The Southeastern Conference placed four schools in the top 10 (No. 2 UK, No. 3 Florida, No. 9 Alabama and No. 10 Arkansas), and seven in the top 20 (No. 11 South Carolina, No. 17 Tennessee and No. 18 LSU).
As for all sports, Kentucky's ranking does not match the Big Blue Nation rhetoric. UK is No. 73 in terms of Twitter and Facebook traffic. That's right after the Cincinnati Reds at No. 71 and Penn State football at No. 72.
The only college sports entity in the top 50 overall is Ohio State at No. 33.
The NBA ranks No. 1 followed by the Los Angeles Lakers at No. 2.
UK and the family of prospect Anthony Davis emphatically denied The Chicago Sun-Times' stories last week suggesting that there had been an agreement to pay $200,000 for the player's services.
That supposed price tag caught the attention of Reggie Minton, an associate executive director of the National Association of Basketball Coaches. "Oh, wow," he said.
Besides being a gross violation of NCAA recruiting rules, what's so wrong with buying players? College teams need good players.
"I understand you need good players," Minton said. "Colleges and universities have a lot to offer without us getting into bidding wars. There (is) already an arms race in buildings and facilities. Where will it stop?"
The Chicago Sun-Times' stories seemed to suggest that rival recruiters were the sources for information on the $200,000 price tag.
Would it be naive to think a rival recruiter might try to spread such a story to try to kill a player's commitment to play for school?
"I don't think that's naive at all," Minton said. "I've received more than one phone call saying so-and-so cheated.
"I said, turn them in. Simple as that. You know they cheat, turn them in. All of a sudden, it gets real quiet.
"They want to turn it over to me and get me to turn them in."
Having just returned from a three-week vacation, I was intrigued by columnist T.J. Simers of the Los Angeles Times writing about getting away to Lake Tahoe recently.
"The perfect day over, and back into cell-phone territory, I checked messages," Simers wrote.
"Hope you drown in Lake Tahoe," an e-mail from Mark D. Ashton, was among the messages.
"Yeah, so good to be back ... I'm taking another week's vacation.
"But nowhere near Lake Tahoe."
UK in Portland
The Rose Garden sold more than 1,000 tickets for the upcoming Kentucky-Portland game on the first day of sales July 30.
As a stop to break up the trip to the Maui Invitational on Thanksgiving Week, UK will play the University of Portland Pilots on Nov. 19 in the Rose Garden (10 p.m. EST tipoff).
Tickets are priced at $50, $30, $18 and $12 and can be ordered through the Web site ComcastTIX.com.
Portland spokesman Jason Brough put in perspective the selling of 1,000 tickets the first day.
"I wouldn't categorize it as amazing, but it is somewhat significant because it is so far in advance of the game," he wrote in an e-mail. "Our game against rival Gonzaga usually sells out our facility (4,852) on the first day of the public on-sale. But beyond that, the numbers are definitely unusual for a normal game we host. That 1,000 number doesn't include our season-ticket renewals (1,091) and mini package holders (440) that are guaranteed tickets to the game. We expect a huge push as the game approaches."
The Rose Garden's capacity for NBA games is 20,600, but Portland has decided to close off the third deck for the Kentucky game, making the capacity 10,817. However, if ticket demand is strong enough, Portland will re-open the third deck.
Portland's average attendance last year was 2,189.
Here's a record UK can shoot for: Portland played host to Duke at the Rose Garden on Dec. 19, 2000, and had a UP-record crowd of 15,341.
Going all the way
With the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games coming to Lexington this fall, Garden & Gun magazine asked Erik Reece to write about the city in its August/September issue.
Reece, who teaches writing at UK, noted how Lexington's self-identification with the horse does not mean many residents often actually see a horse. But UK athletics, UK basketball in particular, has a much firmer grasp on Lexington's collective imagination.
So Reece concluded the article by pondering Lexington post-WEG.
"After that we'll clean up and get back to the work of reinventing Lexington as a more sustainable, more interesting kind of Southern city," Reece wrote. "More than one of us will make a call to The John Calipari Show and advise our new basketball coach on how to better attack the 1-3-1 defense — because this year, baby, we're going all the way."
Vols eye Turpin's son
Knoxville News Sentinel sportswriter Mike Griffin notes that the search for big-man help has Tennessee eyeing Kiel Turpin, the son of the late former UK star Melvin Turpin.
Turpin, a 6-foot-11, 200-pound post man from Lincoln Community College in Illinois, has received scholarship offers from Southern Cal, Florida State and Southern Illinois, Griffin wrote.
Turpin took an unofficial visit to Tennessee earlier this summer, according to MidStateHoops.com. He led his team to the NJCAA Division II championship last season, averaging 11.3 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in Midwest Athletic Conference play.
Turpin grew from 6-5 to 6-11 between his junior and senior years at Normal West (Ill.) High School.
To former UK guard James Blackmon. He turned 46 on Saturday.