Why Big Blue Madness is an afterthought this year


Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops waves to fans during the Cat Walk before the No. 16 University of Kentucky vs. LSU game on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, at Kroger Field in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Barkley Truax

Kentucky fans have used the term “just wait ‘till basketball season” to death over the years. In 2021–that saying couldn’t be more irrelevant.

We’re just hours away until Big Blue Madness takes place inside a packed Rupp Arena. In years passed, Big Blue Nation has come out in droves, doing anything and everything to collect that coveted ticket. Sure, it sold out in less than an hour via online sales. Sure, fans are itching to see their beloved basketball Cats after the pandemic hindered Rupp Arena from running at full-capacity last season. 

But, Kentucky football is 6-0 for the first time since 1950.

Let’s face it, Kentucky fans have their full attention on No. 11 UK’s College GameDay trip at No. 1 Georgia in Athens Saturday afternoon. 

What used to be a must-cover, high-profile event that has brought the likes of rapper Drake, legendary boxing announcer Bruce Buffer, former star players and more is now something news outlets are having someone there just in case something happens. 

A good chunk of local media around Lexington and fans alike are on their way to Georgia right this second, passing up the chance to be there to witness the start of the Kentucky basketball Advent calendar. In years past this would be seen as sacrilege—but why isn’t it now?

The culture, passion, intensity and winning-style Kentucky football head coach Mark Stoops has brought to the football program is something that hasn’t been seen on a consistent basis since the days of Bear Bryant in the 1940’s and ‘50’s. Saturday night, Kentucky has a chance to make their mark on the college football world and do the impossible—knock off the No. 1 team in the country. 

The shift from basketball to football began in 2018 with Kentucky’s first 10-win season since 1977. Led by current Pittsburg Steeler Benny Snell Jr. and Pro-Bowler Josh Allen, Mark Stoops nabbed his signature win over Penn State in the Citrus Bowl. Through the next two seasons, the Cats would win the Belk and TaxSlayer Bowls in 2019 and 2020. 

Meanwhile for the basketball team—they spent 2020 trying to salvage one of the worst seasons in nearly a century. If you grew up in Lexington or as a Kentucky basketball fan, you were raised to believe it was impossible for a UK team to win less than 10 games. If you‘d have told someone that was around during the 2014-15 near-undefeated season that five years later, not only would the Cats not make another Final Four up to that point, but they’d also finish 9-16 with the No. 1 recruiting class—they’d probably say you’re crazy. And that’s putting it nicely.

Transfer point guard Sahvir Wheeler went down with a nasty-looking ankle injury in an open practice in early October that no one made a big deal of. Fans brushed that fact to the side and were still arguing about whether or not UK running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. can rush against a Georgia defense that has allowed less than 65 rushing yards per game this season. Wheeler turned out to be okay, but in year’s passed, the sky would be falling on BBN at the thought of their potential starting point guard going down with an injury less than a month before squaring off with Duke in Madison Square Garden. 

On the other hand, it’s almost as if men’s basketball head coach John Calipari would rather it be this way.

Having such a successful football program not only alleviates the pressure of coaching the winningest college basketball team in the country, but takes the sour taste of last season out of BBN’s collective mouths as well. Fans finally have something to root for UK-wise since the pandemic halted what many fans will tell you was another Final Four run from the 2019 Cats led by Immanuel Quickley, Nick Richards and Tyrese Maxey. 

Win or lose against Georgia this weekend, BBN will show their love for the program Mark Stoops has built from the ground up. Fans of all ages have grown up cheering for Kentucky teams that eventually win two games the entire season. All their waiting has finally paid off. 

Over the last decade, Kentucky has moved from SEC bottom feeder, to a middle-of-the-pack squad to being right there neck-and-neck with some of the top team’s in the nation. 

Currently Kentucky boasts a better record (6-0) than reigning College Football Playoff Champion Alabama (5-1), which is something no one thought we could say this season—or any season, really. Crimson Tide fans would probably say the same thing when it came to basketball last season.

The bottom line—Big Blue Madness is tonight. It’ll be sold out. But, if you ask Kentucky fans whether they’re looking forward to Georgia this weekend or Duke in Kentucky’s Champions Classic season opener—the majority will say the game in Athens. 

The football success is for some, a once in a lifetime occurrence while Kentucky basketball dubs themselves ‘The Greatest Tradition’ for a reason. As the SEC motto goes, “It just means more.”