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UK Can Still Pull Off Neutral


Photo by Jon Hale at

The listed attendance for last Thursday’s 14-3 win over Western Kentucky in Nashville was 24,599. Let me put that in perspective. Last season’s win over WKU in Commonwealth Stadium saw 66,584 fans in the stands. This game would have been better served staying in Lexington. Hell, this game would have been better served going to Houchens Industries – L.T. Smith Stadium, with a max capacity of about 22,000, in Bowling Green. However, it went to Nashville. The allure of a neutral site game under the big lights with guaranteed television coverage was too much to overlook. UK made a mistake with this neutral site game, but at their core, neutral site contests aren’t evil and UK should look to doing more of them, but the right way.

This worst offense committed by UK in agreeing to this game was the general inaccessibility of it. A game at 9:15 p.m. on a Thursday evening, before Labor Day weekend, in Nashville against a Sunbelt Conference opponent, who has averaged a win a season over the past two years, and with whom we share not an ounce of tradition or rivalry wasn’t smart. The obvious lack of a crowd was embarrassing and as John Clay said in his article regarding the topic of neutral site games, “The Cats were not good on Thursday. They hit the field flat, and you just have to wonder if that had to do with the lack of fans in the stands”. Clay makes a good point, but his provided solution is to simply avoid future contests on unfamiliar turf. That’s not right. There’s another option.

Kentucky has to be smart about how its neutral site games are set up and a few important things need to be kept in mind, as opposed to Thursday’s debacle: time, date and opponent.

The time of the game involves more than just when the ball is kicked off. A game on the Thursday before Labor Day isn’t going to have the same appeal as the same game on the first Saturday afternoon of the college football season. This was the exchange I had with my girlfriend on the subject:

Her: “Why is UK playing on a Thursday?”

Me: “Because then they get to be on national TV.”

Her: “Are they on ESPN?”

Me: “No. ESPNU.”

Her: “Is that really national?”

Me: “Kind of.”

Her: “That’s dumb.”

Our stellar conversational dynamic aside, she’s right. That is dumb. The date is everything here. The most exciting thing about college football is that first Saturday afternoon, when everybody else is playing, too. Fans want to come down for the weekend, start partying on Friday night and keep it going all through the game. The late Thursday night game meant some fans coming from the Bluegrass state, who aren’t Drew Franklin, commuted after work or school and, therefore, had limited party time. After the terrible game, they wouldn’t have had the same zeal for enjoyment as they did before and the experience is ruined. The beauty of a Saturday afternoon game is even if your team loses and your Saturday night sucks, you had a great Friday. Neutral site games should be exciting events, putting two fan bases who hate each other in the same place for many days. This game wasn’t that.

It’s a shame because UK is a school with as passionate fan base as any in the country and there’s no excuse for them not to travel, especially to a fantastic city like Nashville. As balanced as the teams may have been on the field this year, Western Kentucky doesn’t get UK fans very excited. Neutral site games provide a great opportunity to stoke the fires of rivalry, while also scheduling a high profile opponent. UK has been notoriously bad about scheduling real football programs for its non-conference slate, but a top team from an automatic qualifier conference would be the perfect fit for UK at a neutral site. I’d rather see UK play a Cincinnati or West Virginia, or a traditional basketball rival like North Carolina or Kansas than Western Kentucky or Miami of Ohio.

In addition, wrapping up a high profile match up early in the season can generate big bucks for both schools. The Chick-fil-A Kickoff in Atlanta that featured Boise State and Georgia paid each school between $2 and $2.2 million. That’s more than most bowl games pay. Obviously, Kentucky isn’t as high profile as either of those schools, but UK is a recognizable brand with a traditionally passionate fan base. An early season match up against a high profile opponent somewhere like Nashville, Atlanta, Cincinnati or even Indianapolis, could pay dividends for the program. Plus, exposure in games against more high profile teams, especially schools we recruit against, would certainly boost the Cats’ profile in the eyes of high school players.

I agree with John Clay regarding Thursday’s game. It was a disaster, on the field and in the stands. However, we shouldn’t turn our heads to all future neutral site endeavors. It can be done right, and if it is, it would only help the program, well, you know… #RISE.

Article written by Matthew Hays

16 Comments for UK Can Still Pull Off Neutral

  1. dan
    8:25 pm September 7, 2011 Permalink

    A UC vs Kentucky gane in Paul Brfown stadium would generate huge excitement and probably sell out!

  2. dan
    8:27 pm September 7, 2011 Permalink

    A UC vs UK game in Paul Brown stadium would garner HUGE attention and sell out. It would have a playoff atmosphere because of the hatred between the two fanbases.

  3. kaboom!
    8:47 pm September 7, 2011 Permalink

    ^^^ nope. probably not

  4. Jake
    8:47 pm September 7, 2011 Permalink

    Another question for a UK fan: Would you rather play in August/September in Indy, Atlanta, St. Louis, Cincy and Nashville against a decent BCS team or play a fallout ACC team/C-USA champ in (freezing cold) Tennessee right in the midst of the UK/UofL basketball game?

    Win in Sept against a decent team: National exposure to recruits, primetime game, momentum going into SEC play. Change of perception as a bottom dweller in the SEC.

    Lose in September to a decent team: Probable failure to make a bowl game, but better preparation for SEC competition.

    Win in January to a team no one cares about: Minute exposure, it’s a bowl game, and your underclassmen get some extra practice in. But, the fans move on to basketball season.

    Lose in January: Either no one cares or it’s a black eye to the season/team and the fans say, “Oh well, it’s basketball season.”

  5. echo 1
    8:50 pm September 7, 2011 Permalink

    The only way this fiasco should be repeated is if UK plays a decent BCS Conference team. With that, it is still a dumb idea. But that would be better than idiotic, which last Thursday’s idea was.

  6. Wayne
    9:09 pm September 7, 2011 Permalink

    UK picks up where they left off last year with a 3 set to 0 win over UofL in volleyball tonight

  7. ukeng86
    9:24 pm September 7, 2011 Permalink

    Could not play on Saturday at LP Field. Tennessee State has first dibs for the stadium. Planners for the game (WKU, it was their home game) did a poor job. The Nashville Sports Authority which I believed help to set up the game also has some blame.

    10:00 pm September 7, 2011 Permalink

    the deal with UK / WKU was a home and home…we negotiated a home and neutral…get it? So rather than playing in Bowling Green as the away site we got Nashville with idea of playing in a different recruiting base. Time of game, day of game still sucked.

  9. Calipari'sInYourEar
    10:36 pm September 7, 2011 Permalink

    What do they say about beating a dead horse?

    Unless Calipari is calling the shots, UK Athletics large scale decision making lacks common sense and borders on inept. The decision to have a football game in Tennessee between 2 Kentucky teams should sum it up.

    Please lets not let them think they were even remotely close to an intelligent decision with this. They don’t listen (part of their problem) and might end up doing the same thing all over again (same teams, same venue, same faux ESPN) to prove to us that it was a great idea in the first place yet didn’t work because of the moon shift.

  10. JPhelps
    11:10 pm September 7, 2011 Permalink

    There was once a time we made fun of Loserville for having Thursday night games for television sake… Now, it looks as if we are trying to do the same. Sad times.

    I agree with the sentiment that a higher profile game would benefit us… Only if we win though. So, I think that’s why it currently isn’t an option. Nobody is a guaranteed win.

  11. TeddyKGB
    12:35 am September 8, 2011 Permalink

    Kentucky is not Louisville. We do not have to play at crappy places on crappy nights at crappy times to generate interest.

  12. DonnyBaker
    11:14 am September 8, 2011 Permalink

    I think the intention was to have the game played on Saturday, Sept. 3rd. But the organizers forgot about Tennessee State, who has rights to host their home games at LP Field. They openend their season on that Saturday as well. I think if the game is on a Saturday night, the attendance is much better.
    The good thing is that only 25K were disappointed instead of 50K.

  13. Stop posting Lies
    11:15 am September 8, 2011 Permalink

    I read all the way down till you said my girlfriend. Then I knew this entire article was a lie

  14. Joe
    12:31 pm September 8, 2011 Permalink

    The weak schedule is protecting the set-up of winning 2 SEC games and still being bowl eligible. If you take the weakest team out of the schedule and sub in a Cincinnati or a West Virginia, there would have been no bowl game in 2008 or in 2010. And without those bowls, who knows if the underclassmen develop as well (losing a month of extra practice) or if the recruiting is even worse, etc. When we can be comfortable that UK will win 7 games a year, then you can firm up the schedule. But not a minute before.

  15. The Girlfriend
    1:28 pm September 8, 2011 Permalink

    Hey #13, I’m real. SUCK IT

  16. Stop posting Lies
    5:17 pm September 8, 2011 Permalink

    Hey #15 stop pretending to have a girlfriend. No girl would say SUCK IT.