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The Pros and Cons behind Kentucky’s Bowl Decision

UK Athletics

UK Athletics

Regardless of the outcome in Saturday’s season finale against South Carolina, the Kentucky football team will finish the 2020 season with a record below .500. In light of the bizarre COVID-19 circumstances, the Wildcats will still be eligible to attend a bowl game, but will they accept an invitation? Mark Stoops casted doubt on that possibility Monday afternoon.

“I am not sure. I really haven’t addressed that yet. I need to visit with our team,” said Kentucky’s head coach.

“I think the biggest thing would be the mindset of our team and to make sure they would be all in and would want to do that. I certainly would want to and I think our staff would and administration. There are going to be a lot of teams playing in bowl games with three or four wins. We need to win this game, that is for sure. But I will address that next week and it will really be the temperature of our football team. I don’t want to go in there half-hearted. I want to go in with an all-in mentality and ready to play and compete.”

Why would UK turn down the chance to play in the postseason? Allow me to address the pros and cons behind Kentucky’s postseason decision.

Pro: Postseason Exposure 

As much as critics may dismiss bowl games as exhibitions, people LOVE watching them. Kentucky’s 2018 Citrus Bowl win over Penn State was the most-watched bowl game outside of the New Year’s Six and 2017’s Music City Bowl was the third-most watched non-New Year’s Six game with 4.6 million viewers. Playing in the postseason helps programs expand their brand beyond the scope of the regular season.

Con: Money 

Bowl games also come with eye-popping payouts. The two most likely bowl destinations for Kentucky this postseason are the Music City Bowl in Nashville and Liberty Bowl in Memphis, games that carry a $5.7 million and $4.7 million payout, respectively.

That money does not directly go into UK’s athletic budget. It is split among the participating teams and the conference. The SEC caps out member earnings in that range of bowl game at $1.525 million. The conference gives a travel stipend, but expenses pile up quickly once you consider all of the gear, the cost of unpurchased tickets and bonuses awarded to coaches. The oddity of the 2020 season will likely force bowl games to restructure ticket cost and distribution. There’s also no indication that coaches would waive the right to receive lucrative bonuses from playing in the postseason, despite the lackluster regular season record.

Even though there’s a lot of money thrown around at bowl games, teams often lose money. When Kentucky won the 2018 Citrus Bowl, the school raked in $1.77 million for winning the Citrus Bowl while totaling $2.43 million in expenses. In a year where budgets have shrunk across college athletics, playing in a bowl game will more than likely hurt Kentucky’s bottom line more than it helps.

Pro: End the Season with a Win

The decision-makers in Birmingham did Mark Stoops no favors in the scheduling reshuffle. After other schools postponed games due to COVID-19 issues, Kentucky was forced to play three top ten teams in a four-game stretch.

Right now it feels like the sky is falling in Lexington. It’s not so different than what Kentucky fans felt after losing three-straight to Florida, Mississippi State and South Carolina in 2019. In retrospect, we will not remember that ugly stretch of the season. Kentucky fans remember watching Lynn Bowden run all over Louisville before winning in walk-off fashion against Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl. Two wins to cap off a difficult season will not completely erase the woes of 2020, but fans will feel better about how it all ended.

Con: Who will be able to play? 

Stoops said on Monday that there are 26-27 absences in the Kentucky football facility entering the final week of the season. Even though running back Chris Rodriguez and tight end Justin Rigg are expected to return to action on Saturday, J.J. Weaver suffered a torn ACL while filling in for the “banged up” Jordan Wright and Kelvin Joseph opted out of the remainder of the season.

In addition to missing players, UK’s staff may dwindle. Stoops recently alluded to “moving the program forward” starting next week, which leads many to speculate that will be when Eddie Gran and Darin Hinshaw are relieved of their duties. Of course, it’s only speculation, but we could see a scenario where Vince Marrow is calling plays in a postseason game.

Pro: Offseason Momentum 

Winning at the end of the year does not just make fans feel good. Artificial momentum is created within programs and recruiting circles based on how you finish. Not only do talented recruits get to see what your program has to offer, the bowl practices that predominantly feature the team’s young stars give coaches a sneak peek at what the future holds. That experience for underclassmen is invaluable, particularly a year after Stoops signed his best recruiting class to date that includes Beau Allen and a bevy of talented pass-catchers.

Con: Who wants to still play? 

2020 has been difficult for everyone, but even more so for the Kentucky football program. Before the season Chris Oats suffered a medical emergency. The once rising star with all-conference potential was confined to a wheelchair. Shortly after the Wildcats found their feet with a dominant win over Tennessee, John Schlarman, the cornerstone of the Big Blue Wall that helped develop the identity and culture of Stoops’ program, succumbed to his lengthy fight with cancer.

Kentucky’s head coach said “it’s hard to put into words” exactly how emotionally and physically exhausting this year has been for his team.

“I know it’s been definitely one of the most trying times. Certainly, one of the most trying coaching experiences of my life and I’ve been through some tough ones,” Stoops said. “But again, I don’t really want that to be the headline because it’s about the players. I am paid to do this job, I can accept it, I can shoulder it, I’ll be fine. I do care about our players and I do care about their mental and physical well-being. It’s been very trying on them.”

If the Wildcats decide to prematurely call it a season after all they’ve been through, can you blame them?

Article written by Nick Roush

"Look upon the doughnut, and not upon the hole." @RoushKSR

13 Comments for The Pros and Cons behind Kentucky’s Bowl Decision

  1. Ryan Lemonds Toupee
    3:56 pm December 1, 2020 Permalink

    It’s been very trying to be UK football fan. “Exhausting”

  2. JTHinton
    3:57 pm December 1, 2020 Permalink

    Anyone else remember the days when all we longed for was a bowl trip? Anywhere … Shreveport, Birmingham, wherever!

  3. brassnux66
    4:08 pm December 1, 2020 Permalink

    They should play the game. Take the extra practice that goes with it. Audition a new QB. It’s been exhausting for all of us. It sends the wrong message to quit.

    • tdub
      4:46 pm December 1, 2020 Permalink

      Agreed, quitters never win!

  4. az1006
    4:12 pm December 1, 2020 Permalink

    Man, I can’t blame any of them for the frustration. The mental toll the players and coaches have had to endure would be taxing on anyone, and it’s just a really weird situation. I don’t know if there are serious cultural problems within the program, or if it’s just a symptom of everything coming to a head: Chris Oats, John Schlarman, COVID restrictions, losing games, the anemic offense. The emotional and mental adversity this team has had to collectively face is incredible, and for young men to vent publicly shouldn’t be a surprise. It also shouldn’t be a surprise if they don’t want to play in a bowl game. I’m not enthusiastic about it, and just sort of want the season to be over and behind us. Can’t imagine the players don’t feel the same way. I hope, though, the issues we’ve seen publicly lately aren’t a trend, and just all of those forces pressing down on these kids.

  5. UKFaninCO
    4:31 pm December 1, 2020 Permalink

    Find a QB who can throw accurate over 20 yards and get him reps!

  6. chardun20
    4:34 pm December 1, 2020 Permalink

    Play the Bowl game and try to erase this awful season.

  7. Johnnycat
    4:40 pm December 1, 2020 Permalink

    This seems like it will be a Memphis or Birmingham bowl year…especially if they lose to SC. Music City (versus Louisville?) would certainly be enticing, but they need to win Saturday to have a shot. Those players are just tired of it all (around the Rona)…I get it. We all are. But win Saturday…get happy again…and take the game. If a whole lot of guys opt out or are sick…it will be a great chance to let some young guys play, win or lose.

  8. secrick
    4:41 pm December 1, 2020 Permalink

    Play the game and throw the ball down the field. Stop the boring ass football.

  9. largoky
    4:44 pm December 1, 2020 Permalink

    It has been a trying year for a lot of us. I am an industrial machine mechanic working in a factory that supplies medical devices In Pinellas County, FL. This whole mess started St. Patrick’s Day here, and I have worked and not missed a beat since then. In spite of working more than I ever have in my life, in the most densely populated county, in the 4th most populated state, I’m not throwing in the towel. I’m sure there are a lot of people like me out there that don’t want to see the team give up, even though it would be easy to do so. Yes it’s just a game, but for those of us who have carried the weight this year, it’s been nice to have a reprieve when we get day off. Shame to see young men defeated so easily…

    • UKgrad80
      5:03 pm December 1, 2020 Permalink

      Thank you for your service largo!

  10. just a guy
    5:15 pm December 1, 2020 Permalink

    It’s been really tough so we should just quit?? Is that what this article is saying? I thought coaches wanted bowl games for practice time, trying new guys at positions, etc. now we’re not gonna play because it’s too tough? This football team was fine 3 weeks ago. It was getting destroyed by Alabama and Florida, not Covid that changed the temperature of the program.

  11. WKY Cat
    6:26 pm December 1, 2020 Permalink

    This is simple. All programs have lost revenue from Covid. Take the bowl money. Mitch will make sure this happens.