Kentucky takes in-fighting to new level

·3 min read

Aug. 13—The in-state college sports war is on.

It's not the bitter Kentucky vs. Louisville rivalry. And it's not Western Kentucky against UK or Louisville. Forget Murray State, Northern Kentucky and Eastern Kentucky, too.

No, this time it's a Wildcat civil war — the hardwood hoopers against the gridiron footballers.

It all stems from comments UK men's basketball coach John Calipari made to The Athletic's Kyle Tucker on Thursday in the Bahamas, in an effort to get a new training facility built to replace the 15-year-old Joe Craft Center.

"This is a basketball school," Calipari said. "Alabama is a football school. So is Georgia. No disrespect to our football team. I hope they win 10 games and go to bowls. But this is a basketball school."

It didn't take long for football head coach Mark Stoops to respond.

"Basketball school?" he tweeted. "I thought we competed in the SEC? #4straightpostseasonwins"

Cue the social media meltdowns.

UK basketball fans chimed in to say that Calipari was simply stating the truth: Historically, Kentucky is a basketball school.

Football fans fired back, bringing up recent success: UK has won four consecutive bowl games, while the basketball team has gone winless in the postseason over that same stretch. Last season's NCAA Tournament loss to Saint Peter's was a key barb..

Fans of both sports? They were simply caught in the middle, trying to extinguish the flames.

The fire raged out of control quickly, though.

Former players on both sides weighed in. Pundits presented their views. Fans, undeterred by any arguments made by the other side, continued to spout off their opinions. Some even brought out the all-caps replies and exclamation marks, which are, of course, always crucial to an online war of words.

Even opposing fan bases — Louisville, Tennessee, Arkansas and others — got in on the action, if only to stir the pot.

Here's the thing, though: It's all ridiculous.

Kentucky is a basketball school. Kentucky is also a football school. And a volleyball school. And a rifle school. And a tennis school. And so on, and so forth.

It's not often that a single university can make that claim, so it's probably best to enjoy the ride instead of bickering.

The problem is that Calipari's words, as well-intentioned as they may have been to get his players a facility upgrade, hold weight. It may not seem like a big deal, but UK football's recruiting rivals will certainly use Cal's words against the Cats.

On a certain level, it's also a disservice to the work that Stoops has done to build UK into a quality football program. Are the Cats competing for conference titles at Kroger Field at the same rate they are at Rupp Arena? No, and nobody would dispute that. But that climb has to start somewhere.

It's true that Kentucky is the top basketball program in the state and one of the most heralded in the nation. With that stature, however, Calipari's comments come off as "punching down" at a program on its way up.

Calipari didn't mean to cause a stir, but he did. Stoops didn't mean to drum up controversy, but he did.

Who knows, though? At the end of the day, maybe the whole conversation brings the attention back to Calipari's original point of constructing a new practice facility.

Stoops is scheduled to meet with the media Saturday as part of his regular fall camp schedule. As of Friday afternoon, though, Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart has now been added to that availability.

It'll be interesting to see Barnhart's take on the whole situation, whether he fans the flames or puts them out.

Maybe he can serve as the calming voice in the middle of an argument that never should've happened.