After John Calipari was introduced to a delirious UK fanbase in March, one thing was abundantly clear: the scrutiny level on Kentucky had amped up exponentially. While Kentucky has always been in the top tier of college basketball programs and thus has continually been subject to the bright lights of the media, things amped up when the former Memphis coach showed up in town. The combination of the Big Blue and Cal would do two things immediately: change the game in the college basketball recruiting/talent world and make Lexington, Kentucky hot spot #1 for national attention. Calipari even warned of the likelihood, saying that UK would be “held to a higher standard” by self-appointed arbitrers of moral judgment and that the program would thus have to conform its behavior to that higher standard.
This weekend illustrated exactly what Calipari stated. All across America, Midnight Madness took place and gave fans a chance to see their teams for the first time. Yet in only one instance did behavior at those events get scrutiny for violating a (amazingly stupid) NCAA rule…at Kentucky. Whereas Kansas fans chanted recruits’ names, UT fans painted a rock for a player, Duke fans made homemade signs outside their dorm rooms and West Virginia students made Adrien Payne shirts and signs, only Kentucky fans felt the wrath of the media for their behavior. At Madness, a small number of UK fans chanted the names of Kyrie Irving, Tobias Harris, Michael Gilchrist and CJ Leslie (who wasnt there). One could make the argument that the chants were more muted than any of the other incidents of recruit “publicizing” at the other schools, but only at Kentucky did the media hop on board. Jerry Tipton stopped telling the kids to get off his lawn long enough to point out the violation in a game story, and ESPN’s Dana O’Neill mentioned it in her write-up on the night. Kentucky was thus portrayed as a rule-breaker, whereas elsewhere the fans were just shown as “passionate.”
Many see this dichotomy and suggest that there is some “bias” against UK and that the media is out to get the Cats. I dont believe that necessarily but I do believe that the scrutiny in Lexington will be the most intense in the nation while Calipari is here. The combination of Kentucky and Calipari means that actions which are taken by every program in America will be scrutinized when they take place at Kentucky. The combination of the largest college basketball media following, Kentucky being the “it” program once again and a group of reporters who want to make waves by “catching” Calipari in some action, mean that UK will be held to a higher standard. It isnt fair, but it unfortunately seems to be the case.