The fans are back but they haven’t returned to Rupp Arena all at once this season.
The ongoing pandemic has likely discouraged fans from watching the Wildcats from the stands and current renovations at Central Bank Center have resulted in some issues, too. I certainly understand why some fans, especially the older generation of season ticket-holders, are slow returning to their seats.
The virus has yet to be fully tamed and sitting within close proximity of a fellow fan can provide for a dose of anxiety even with the requirement of masks.
However, when Kentucky’s playing and who the Wildcats are competing against could be the root of the problem.
Since the beginning of the season, the Wildcats have been a part of six consecutive events on Friday night, starting with Big Blue Madness on Oct. 15. The schedule is set up to obviously avoid a conflict with college football, but it interferes with the high school schedule as all high school football games are played on Friday night. If you count Friday night’s game against North Florida, that will be seven straight weeks of Friday night basketball.
This football playoffs are in full swing across the state - with state semifinal games scheduled for Friday - and if fans are picking and choosing between the two, some will pick a competitive game on the gridiron as opposed to possibly attending a non-conference basketball game in November.
Kentucky coach John Calipari addressed the issue following a win over Ohio last Friday night and indicated that going back to Sunday evening games in November could be an option but, as we all know, games and when they are played are pretty much dictated by the television, mainly the SEC Network.
Kentucky plays most of its heavyweight opponents, such as Duke, North Carolina, Michigan State, Ohio State and UCLA away from home on a rotating basis each season, while scheduling lower to mid-level mid-major programs in other slots.
To its credit, Kentucky has scheduled in-state schools such as Eastern Kentucky University and Morehead State University in pre-season tune-up games in an effort to draw a regional crowd and provide those institutions with a nice payday for making the short trip to Lexington.
I would like to see Kentucky resume its series with Indiana on a home-and-home basis to add a little more spice to the schedule each season. A series with teams such as maybe, Memphis, Saint Louis or even Cincinnati would be more lucrative than the current setup of games during the first month of the season. Marshall could even be a good addition.
Most fans are also feeling a disconnect with the team and have mentioned to me they are growing wearing of the one-and-done culture. Many would return to the era when players stayed for more than year and became part of their “family” although this team has more than the typical amount of returning players
The recent addition of NIL may convince more players to stay longer than 12 months, given they can now receive compensation while in school.
There are several factors as to why fans are slowly returning back to arena. It’s not just happening at Kentucky, it’s an issue all across the nation by the looks of attendance on the television screen.
Although the Roar of Rupp hasn’t completely returned, it will be back in a matter of time, likely in January when SEC play begins.
(Keith Taylor is the sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at Keith.firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at keithtaylor21)