Sidelines with John Clay

The fan base doesn’t want your optimism about Kentucky football

A reader named Jack sent me an email this morning.

It read: “Crew members of the Enola Gay weren’t as optimistic as you are.”

For those who don’t know, the Enola Gay was the first aircraft to drop an atomic bomb.

Jack’s email was in reference to Kentucky football.

That’s been the public tone pretty much since the end of last football season, when UK’s 4-1 start caved in to another 5-7 finish. The negativity has continued right through national signing day, through spring drills, right up through Saturday’s Blue-White game at Commonwealth Stadium.

During that time, if I’ve written anything that might be construed as mildly encouraging about UK football, the column or post is met with skepticism. If I tweet anything that might be taken as mildly optimistic about UK football, my notifications are filled with snark-saturated replies.

I wrote my follow column from Saturday’s spring game on head coach Mark Stoops saying that his team had to continue its increased workload through the summer months if it wanted to get over the five-win hump and finally make a bowl game.

On, the first comment under the column read, “‘0 comments’ (Before mine, I mean.) Speaks volumes.”

(Last I checked, the comment count was up to three.)

This should all be expected, of course, when your football team hasn’t had a winning season since 2009, when it has won eight SEC games over the past six years, when its current coach is 12-14 overall and 4-20 in the SEC in the past three seasons.

I’d venture to say there’s a little something different about the reaction this year. It seems more cynical. It seems to possess a sharper edge. It seems to be less hopeful than at any time in recent memory — even by UK football standards — for a fan base that until recently had faithfully supported losing football.

To me, there are a couple of reasons for this.

Hype is the first. After attendance bottomed out under previous coach Joker Phillips, the UK administration pulled out all the stops when it hired Mark Stoops. It held a flashy press conference. It used promotions to draw 50,000 fans to Commonwealth Stadium for Stoops’ first spring game. It hired an offensive coordinator with ties to the Hal Mumme era and aggressively sold the “Air Raid” label.

The results haven’t matched the hype.

The second reason for the current tone, I think, is money. Tickets cost more. K-Fund donations cost more. Concessions cost more. Parking costs more. For the first time, you must pay as much as $300 to the K-Fund just to have the right to buy a parking pass — to park in a lot that already has a corporate sponsor.

Many of the renovations made to Commonwealth Stadium are nice and were badly needed, but many of the longtime fans I talk to are not happy. They think most of the improvements favor the big-money donors, the ones who buy the corporate boxers. A sizable number are not happy that they had to give up their old seats — and the group of fans they used to sit with — for new seats when the entire stadium was reticketed last year.

In the ticket information for last Saturday’s spring game, there was one disclaimer: “NOTE: Tickets are free but there is a small service charge per ticket.”

That’s not free.

Another friend pointed out that for season ticket holders, the service charge for renewing your tickets went up this year from $10 to $15.

Given the past product on the field and the cost of watching the product on the field, it’s probably no surprise that there’s so much negativity around Kentucky football right now. In the past, UK fans wanted to believe in a turnaround. This time, it appears UK fans are going to have to see it to believe it.

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