The topic de jour in the Bluegrass today is to what extent UK has screwed one of its own by cancelling the game next season in Boston against UMASS. The game, which was scheduled for the end of November, would have been a huge revenue boost for the UMASS program and estimates are that if it had occurred, it would have generated somewhere close to $250,000 for the UMASS athletic budget. UK cancelled the game and paid the “out” clause on the contract (around $50,000), claiming that it wanted to have another home game instead of a road game against the Minutemen. Immediately the UMASS officials and Andy Katz (who of course is a beacon of moral clarity) cried foul and the state entered into a debate. Does UK owe Travis Ford the game in Boston, or was this business decision something that should not be taken personally by the former spunky guard?
As an initial matter, I have seen much discussion about this issue that simply gets one fact incorrect. Kentucky DID NOT break its contract with UMASS….in fact it satisfied its contract completely….an out clause with a payment from the University was included and Kentucky paid the payment. Thus folks who say that Kentucky didnt “live up to their word” are simply incorrect. Like most contracts, there was a provision for how it could be ignored….UK abided by those provisions, end of story. And from a business standpoint, there is no doubt that the decision can be understood. UK gets nothing by playing UMASS in Boston…..the Minutemen arent high profile enough to be a marquee game, there is no advantage to beating them but a huge loss to losing to them and this gives the opportunity for another home game. From a strictly business standpoint, the game never made any sense to begin with, and thus ending it is completely rational.
But there is another standpoint to consider…..mainly how the University treats a former player. This game was set up during the Tubby era for one reason…..to help a former player in getting his new program off the ground. Tubby had affinity for Travis Ford and this game gave Travis the opportunity to get a marquee game close to home. Tubby is now gone and according to Mitch Barnhart, thus ends the discussion on the issue. Many people have complained that this isnt the way to treat a former player……that Travis has earned the respect from the University to allow the road game to occur, regardless of the business interest. Heck, if UK wants to get out of a road game, cancel the game at Houston.
While I understand this view and even subscribe to it a little bit, ultimately it ignores the realities of big time basketball. Kentucky operates a multi-million dollar basketball program that the fans want…..no DEMAND to be excellent. Nicities such as helping former players are sweet and make the heart feel warm, but what is most important is building the program. And from that perspective, playing the UMASS game is simply not something UK needs to do. Playing at Houston allows recruiting in the fertile Texas player farm and ultimately, that reality trumps helping Travis’ new program.
Kentucky honored its business and contractual obligations in ending the deal with UMASS. However it went about its decision in a way that leaves some Kentucky fans (including me) a little queasy. Travis Ford gave a lot to the program and it is a shame that this business decision will have a negative effect on his new program. However, under Billy Clyde the rules have changed. It is a new era in Kentucky basketball and the old ways of doing business have been altered for a new focus on producing a top-notch product on the floor. In so doing, there are going to be some feelings hurt and some toes stepped on. We love Travis, but playing at UMASS was not in Kentucky’s best interests….and from now, on for good and for bad, those interests will be priority #1.