by Heather C. Watson
So, we did it. We let Billy G go after two short, embarrassing seasons.
Anyone with even the slightest ties to the Commonwealth has heard it all by now, and has offered his or her own analysis.
In a year of economic hardship, it’s hard to resist the urge to pontificate on a scintillating real-life drama involving multi-million dollar buyouts and whispers of bad behavior.
ESPN’s Jeff McGregor equates the money spent on Gillispiegate to the GM bailout. My own mother, a sensible school administrator who has spent years disseminating state and federal funding in a financially-challenged school district, was aghast when she learned of the debated $6 million buyout; she jokingly (I think) asked me if I felt guilty that previous anti-Gillispie articles I have published could have led to the University “wasting all that money.” Eyebrows have raised further amid rampant speculation that our new coach – Calipari or otherwise — will pull in Six Million Dollars A Year. Yes, you read that right.
Suddenly, everyone is a business lawyer and a basketball fan. Now, I live in a household where the former activity pays the bills, and the latter fuels our lifelong obsession. Needless to say, we have some pretty vehement opinions about the current situation. The phrase that we keep coming back to, however, is “you either get it or you don’t.”
We are poised to spend more money on a coach than most Commonwealth residents will see in their lifetimes. Any serious college sports fan can tell you that the source of this funding is not the actual University, but rather an elite group of boosters. The donors serve as the de facto Board of Directors at most universities, and the coach had better make damn sure that these folks are satisfied with his job performance. Still, it seems like a ton of money to throw after a single pursuit. In my own earlier Ace Weekly article, I noted that Billy Clyde’s Jessamine County house cost ten times the average house in that area. That is a crazy disparity at a time when Kentucky is facing a record-high unemployment rate.
Even with full knowledge of this disparity, how can I endorse my alma mater’s selection of the New Six Million Dollar Man? Well, the answer is simple. I want to win. I want a National Championship every couple of years.
More importantly, though, as a born-and-bred Kentuckian, I have seen first-hand the intense level of happiness and interest and unity that the UK basketball program brings to the Commonwealth. In the hard-working, often impoverished areas of the state, our basketball program brings levity and pride. We love our Cats and we want them to win. Central Kentucky may have their horse industry, but in areas where the coal has run dry, there isn’t a ton of interest in futurities and Derby preps. We don’t have professional sports teams with which to align ourselves; we root for the Reds and the Bengals, but they aren’t “ours.” The unifying pastime in nearly all our one hundred twenty counties is cheering on the Big Blue. We paint our barns, we wear the colors with pride, and we belong to the Big Blue Nation.
I’ve always been told that money can’t buy happiness. Here’s hoping that the relationship between the new coach and the Big Blue Nation will disprove that old adage.