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Don’t be surprised at lowest opening game fan turnout in Mark Stoops’ era at UK

Only about 42,000 tickets have been distributed for UK’s opening game Saturday. (Vicky Graff Photo)

By LARRY VAUGHT

Chris Leach of the Kentucky Kernel reported today that only about 42,000 tickets have been distributed for Kentucky’s season-opening game against Central Michigan.

This is a Kentucky team coming off consecutive seven-win seasons that ended with bowl games and returns several star players including running back Benny Snell, linebacker Josh Allen and safety Mike Edwards.

Yet barring a last-minute ticket surge — and I would not expect that — this will be the smallest crowd to attend a home opener since Mark Stoops took over as head coach.

Kentucky didn’t help by scheduling sorority rush in direct conflict with the football game and eliminating a number of students involved in sororities from being able to attend. But there’s a bigger disconnect with the fan base that UK continues to either ignore or not understand based on these recent messages I have received from Kentucky fans:

— Robert Monahan: “I supported UK football for over 50 years and finally gave up. I will always be a UK fan, but UK will never rise to become an SEC caliber football program. This is basketball country. I stay up with the Cats, and I very much enjoy listening to you on the radio, but my days of actually buying tickets and spending all that time at the stadium are well behind me. I can sit in my recliner, watch my 70-inch TV, and switch channels any time I want. Last year’s Florida game debacle pretty much summed up my 50 plus years of wasting my time following the UK program. I would like to have a nickle for all the miles I traveled to away games. Just can’t tolerate the sun, rain, cold, and overpriced entertainment.”

— Paul Turner:  “I have followed UK Football since the early 1950s, since 1954 it hasn’t changed much. My very first UK game was in Knoxville in 1962. UK won on a Clarkie Mayfield field goal. I think coach Stoops is doing wonders, but at the same time other SEC programs are doing the same. I think coach Stoops had the 34th best recruiting class in the Nation but the 11th best in the SEC. The other 11 schools already had better and deeper talent, so another 6 and 6 season, maybe 7 and 6, but it is hard to build from the bottom when 11 teams ahead of you are building better.”

— Robbie Nicholas: I love UK football but I think some fans, myself included, just feel a disconnect between the AD (Mitch Barnhart) and ‘UK football’ fans. its Hard to argue that he hasn’t done a good job in general with UK sports. I just feel like UK and it’s football fans aren’t as important in his eyes.”

— Dwayne Buckles: “The University of Kentucky campus does not seem to be too interested in supporting the CATS. I mean we had to schedule our Wedding around UK Football and Keeneland when we were married in October. Had to make sure it was an away game and we had TV’s setup in the Reception area. Times have changed.”

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  1. Truth is ticket prices have gone berserk for University and professional sports. Florida’s ticket sales are significant down and they’re worried. I’m not sure they’ll have 42,000 at their game. The only SEC football game that is comparatively easy to get to with reasonable ticket prices is Vanderbilt. There usually are free tickets there and not much of a crowd to navigate. just sayin’. I appreciate the complaints and I think many are valid. Win and the stadium will be full. Big time sport venues are beyond my reach. I understand that to win and become competitive costs big bucks. I don’t know who can “fix” this situation. I find myself window shopping at the Kroger meat department when a pound of good ground beef costs $8.00.

  2. Larry, you have tapped into an issue that has been nagging at UK fans for quite some time, but it seems that it has finally erupted into full view, in large measure by your giving it a voice. Part of it is the cost, and part is the neglect of the long time loyal fans. However, the biggest part is those factors in the context of a losing football program. UK has not had a single head coach since Blanton Collier with a career winning record, and the average winning percentage has been gradually slipping for the last 60 years.

    I continue to believe this program can return to SEC competitiveness, but that process will require 10 to 15 consecutive years with a single, capable head coach to build not just the program from the technical end (players and coaching and facilities) but on the non-technical end, traditions and expectations. Mark Stoops is about 5 years into that long term process, and the bumpy ride will continue for a few more seasons with some growth mixed with some disappointment.

    Perseverance and patience are necessary to see this process to a reasonable conclusion. I fear that Stoops may be in trouble before this season ends. Give him another 5 to 10 seasons, and he will be the first UK football coach to retire with a winning record since Blanton Collier. But, continue the coaching revolving door, and we won’t see one of those during the remainder of my lifetime.

    1. Stoops lost me when he fired Shannon Dawson. I don’t think Stoops is the right man for the job at UK long term. He has recruited well I guess, but not the best. UK, under Stoops, is well down the list at 11 or 12, generally, with other SEC schools signing better football classes than UK year in year out. I will be for giving Stoops a little more time to get the job done, but he must secure more wins in 2018 to keep his job secure. If he wins less than 7 games in 2018 he will be in big trouble I believe.

  3. Mark Stoops is not perfect. He is not zero defect. He makes mistakes. So do we all, right?

    Mark Stoops is a young, developing head coach who comes to the job with the pedigree of a successful football family, and a work history of his own that has been successful. Yes, he is learning how to be successful as a head coach, and in that process he may continue to make more mistakes than a more seasoned head coach.

    I believe the focus should not be on the specific number of wins in a particular season, but the long term direction of the program. I believe that this program has been climbing out of a very deep hole under Stoops’ leadership. The hole he inherited was extremely deep and dark. Until I see evidence that the program is no longer advancing in terms of the quality of the players recruited and put on the field, the quality of the coaching staff and their decision making, and a program winning percentage that is trending upward on the long haul (a moving 5 year window), I believe UK would make a huge mistake to replace him.

    We all want our team to win a lot of games, and we all want it sooner rather than later. Nothing would make this fan happier than to have the 2018 Cats win 7 or more games. While that outcome is certainly possible, I don’t believe that is likely given the schedule. However, I do believe that over the next 5 years the program will win more games than it did the last 5 years, and go bowling more often than it has the last 5 seasons.

    Mark Stoops should not be on the hot seat, not now, and not after this season, even if this team only wins 4 games, as I have projected.

    1. Good points Professor, but the name of the game in this day and age is win, especially at current ticket prices. Football coaches at big time football schools in the SEC don’t last long if the product on the field is not championship quality, and producing winning seasons year in year out. Stoops has done that the last couple years, so he does deserve more time. But many football fans at Kentucky are fed up with 50 years of mediocrity, high prices, and getting jerked around by this administration for quality seats that they paid good money for. Let Calipari and his basketball program start getting beat on the recruiting trail, and start losing games, and see how these basketball crazies react.

  4. My take is that Stoops should not be fired if he produces a less than bowl eligible team but should be put on “hot seat” with short leashed attached. He might be from good football family tree but IMO he might be weakest branch on that tree. There have been too opening season losses with little to no apparent preparation, in game brain farts, deer in headlights looks, and team wide inability to execute rudiments of football i.e., tackling, pass coverage, penetration. His resume touted high degree of defensive capability, but we have only seen glimpses so far. This should be his best team on the field yet so lets see what he does with it. Go Cats!! Lets put a product on the field that we can all be proud of and one that our adversaries have to respect.

  5. What they said

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