UK Men's Basketball

Sunday-heavy schedule means some fans must choose: God or Calipari?

Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari was not happy with his players position as #1 Kentucky played Boston University on Friday November 21, 2014  in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff
Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari was not happy with his players position as #1 Kentucky played Boston University on Friday November 21, 2014 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff Herald-Leader

In this case, the flesh was willing, but the spirit was weak. When Kentucky games conflicted with church service, the man sat in a church pew. But his mind was elsewhere.

The man had plugs in his ears in order to listen to a radio call of basketball rather than the minister droning on about something relatively unimportant like eternal life.

In theory, a hearty "Amen!" could mean the sermon moved the man spiritually. Or, more likely, a UK player hit a three-point shot. Actually, the man only reacted subtly to the UK game.

"You'd see his eyes widen every once in awhile," Pastor Paul Prather said. "Or a big grin or a big frown would cross his face."

This Kentucky season challenges the concept of keeping church and state separate. UK playing Montana State today is part of six straight Sundays with games. If a game starts early in the afternoon, restless parishioners can start hoping Moses had brought down only five commandments.

"You get encouraged to hustle things along, I'll tell you," said Prather, pastor at Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling. "People kind of sidle up to you and go, 'You know the Cats play at noon, don't you?'"

Prather, who writes a weekly column on religion for the Herald-Leader, said that he digs in and plays defense.

"I say, 'Well, the Cats will just have to wait till we're done,'" he said. "'Or you can head on out whenever the spirit moves you. We're not altering the service even for the Wildcats.'"

When asked how this message is received, Prather chuckled and said, " Nobody's quit yet. Doesn't mean it won't happen, but it hasn't happened yet.

"Everybody knows somewhere down in their soul that God is a little more important even than John Calipari."

Perhaps. But when Kentucky played Buffalo in a game that started at noon last Sunday, God — not the UK coach — had to adjust. Broadway Christian Church in Lexington moved its second service, which starts at 10:45 a.m., to Saturday at 5:30 p.m. The church at Second Street and Broadway leases a nearby parking lot for its faithful. But the lot had to be cleared for basketball fans beginning 90 minutes before tip-off. Or 10:30 a.m.

So, for the first time, Broadway Christian moved a Sunday service.

Broadway Christian Senior Pastor Ernie Perry was philosophical.

"Well, it's the world that we are in," he said.

Making the best of it, Perry asked parishioners to wear blue and white to the Saturday night service. He used Kentucky's No. 1-rated team as a way to introduce his sermon on Luke 12:48. Whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required (King James Bible).

Of course, there's another verse about keeping the Sabbath holy that has to be finessed.

"What we're supposed to do, ideally, is take the Sabbath, or some day of the week and relax and rest and, you know, pay attention to God and think about spiritual matters," Prather said. "You'll get a pretty strong debate even in a congregation as small as ours whether that means no basketball or basketball may be part of relaxing and giving glory to God. A lot of people think God invented basketball."

Prather believes church should come first. But, as Perry noted, that's not the world we live in.

Perry chuckled as he noted that his Saturday service last weekend conflicted with Kentucky's football game at Tennessee. Consequently, attendance for Broadway Christian services last weekend was down about 25 percent, he said.

On the bright side, none of UK's remaining Sunday games tip off earlier than 2 p.m. And there will be no more Sunday games in the regular season after Dec. 7.

"We thank the Lord for that," Perry said.

Why Sunday?

Of course, television plays a big role in why Kentucky scheduled so many Sunday games this season.

Deputy Athletics Director DeWayne Peevy, the man who juggles the many moving parts involved in schedule-making, noted how UK takes pride in having all games televised. Ideally, the weekend games would be on Saturday.

"But we don't do Saturday until football is over in December," he said.

College football takes up all the available TV space on Saturdays. That left Sundays as an option.

What Peevy didn't know was that the SEC Network would schedule volleyball tripleheaders on Sundays. In order to get games televised, he sometimes had to schedule Sunday games at times other than noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. That explains the Sunday night games.

As for the noon start against Buffalo last Sunday, that "window" was available on ESPNU.

"Our choice was no TV or noon," Peevy said. "For millions of fans who watch, I felt we owed it to them to make sure that game is on TV."

Peevy voiced mixed feelings, at best, about Sunday games. He and staffers talked about the possibility of crowding church services, he said.

"I'd like to eliminate Sunday night" as a time for UK games, he said. "Or make that a more occasional thing."

Attendance is also a factor. Naturally, UK wants as many fans as possible in Rupp Arena for home games. Peevy said he relies on what he called "our Big Blue Nation First concept" to get fan feedback.

Fans don't find as much appeal in midweek games, which are unavoidable in league play, because it's a school night. Sunday night has the same problem.

In an attempt to boost attendance, UK has lowered prices for the sale of unused student tickets. Those tickets sold for $42 each last season. This season they cost either $27 or $37.

Early exit

A noticeable number of fans have headed for the exits before UK home games end so far this season. Sometimes, the aisles get crowded at the eight-minute timeout in the second half.

UK wants the fans to stay and looks for ways to keep people in the seats.

"That's one reason why we do military appreciation at the under-eight (time-out) because that can be a really neat thing," Deputy A.D. DeWayne Peevy said. "And I think we roll out the cheerleaders with the big UK flag at the under-four (timeout) because that's traditionally something people want to stay there for.

"But you can't control when people want to leave."

Arena or dome

It seemed curious that last week's Champions Classic was played in Bankers Life Fieldhouse rather than Lucas Oil Stadium. With the Final Four in Lucas Oil Stadium next spring, you would think the coaches would want to play there if only so their players could familiarize themselves with the setting. UK Coach John Calipari said that he felt that way.

A business called ESPN Events owns and operates the Champions Classic. Dome or arena makes little difference to the bottom line. When Kentucky played Duke in the Georgia Dome as part of the 2012 Champions Classic, the game drew an announced crowd of 22,847.

Attendance for the UK-Kansas game last week was announced at 19,306.

ESPN Events can make as much or more money in an arena because people will pay higher ticket prices for better seats. Prices for Bankers Life Fieldhouse ranged from $47 to $252.

Plus, the atmosphere in an arena makes for a better TV show.

Son also rises

No. 1 Kentucky's coach, John Calipari, was in New England on Wednesday night. His son, Brad Calipari, played for The McDuffie School in its opening game.

Mass Live posted a report on the younger Calipari's first game since tearing an anterior cruciate ligament 10 months ago.

"Dressed in a headband and a knee brace, the Mustangs' starting shooting guard rose and fired — finding nothing but net," Mass Live reported. "He pumped his fist and screamed as he ran back up the court.

"In the corner of the gym, University of Kentucky coach John Calipari applauded."

Calipari told Mass Live why he went to the game. "I just wanted to make sure he looked good, and he looked good," he said.

Mass Live said that the younger Calipari's ball-handling and three-point shooting helped McDuffie win 66-59.

"I was nervous at first, just because it was my first game back in 10 months," Brad Calipari said. "After I got going into it, I thought I could have shot better, but Coach (Jacque Rivera) said he thought I played all right."

Correction

Columnist Phil Mushnick of the New York Post writes about sports television and radio. In a column last week, he threw a dart at one of his favorite targets: New York City radio personality (and John Calipari buddy) Mike Francesa.

"... Francesa continues to draw upon what he used to think he knows," Mushnick wrote. "Wednesday, speaking (down to listeners) about University of Memphis basketball, he claimed John Calipari left that program in good shape for new coach Josh Pastner.

"Huh? Five years ago, when Calipari bolted Memphis for Kentucky, he took three of Memphis' potential recruits — John Wall, Eric Bledsoe and DeMarcus Cousins, all now in the NBA — with him!"

Sign of apocalypse?

To borrow from Sports Illustrated, an email arrived last week which made the mind drift to the magazine's Sign of the Apocalypse feature. An entity called VICE Sports touted a video titled, A Starbury Is Born.

The email noted that a host named Isobel Yeung attends a performance of Stephon Marbury's "surreal and autobiographical musical," which is titled I Am Marbury in Beijing. The former NBA point guard talks about his new life in China.

Once hailed by recruiting experts as the next New York City point guard star, Marbury never became an NBA standout. He now plays for the Beijing Ducks.

If you want to watch the video, go to http://bit.ly/1xXtJLh.

Issel epistle

UK men's basketball's career scoring leader, Dan Issel, will speak at Broadway Christian Church's services at 9 and 10:40 this morning. He will use the reversals in his life to speak of God's steadfast support.

Broadway Christian (Second Street and Broadway in Lexington) was the home church of the family of Issel's wife, Cheri. They were married at the church.

Happy birthday

To UK assistant coach Kenny Payne. He turns 48 on Tuesday. ... To Louie Dampier. He turned 70 on Thursday. ... To Steve Lochmuller. He turns 62 on Tuesday. ... To Jim Host. He turns 77 Sunday (today).

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