Thanks to a controversial decision by ESPN this week, two of the most mundane games on Kentucky's SEC schedule suddenly have far more anticipation.
ESPN removed legendary former Indiana coach Bob Knight from his role as analyst for Big 12 games on Big Monday, paired him with veteran play-by-play man Rece Davis and reassigned him to Thursday night SEC games, USA Today reported. That means for the first time, Knight will call a pair of Kentucky games, Jan. 10 at rebuilding Vanderbilt and March 7 at middling Georgia.
Both those otherwise innocuous games suddenly become must-see TV because of Knight's thinly veiled distaste for Kentucky coach John Calipari and his reliance on one-and-done prospects.
Knight famously refused to utter the word "Kentucky" on the air at ESPN last season, leaving the Wildcats off his list of the nation's elite teams. He also called one-and-dones "a disgrace" last spring and had to apologize for erroneously saying Kentucky's 2009-10 Elite Eight team "started five players in the NCAA tournament games that had not been to class that semester."
Of course, Calipari has done his part to fan the flames of the feud. He included a headline-grabbing jab at Knight in a press release announcing the Wildcats amassed a 3.12 team GPA last spring, noting "all this stuff bitter old men say that they don't go to class, it's not true."
An ESPN spokesman sent the following statement Tuesday afternoon in response to an email the previous day seeking an explanation for why the network would have Knight call SEC games.
"We had an opening to pair an analyst with Rece Davis on our Thursday night SEC package after Hubert Davis took a position with North Carolina," the statement read. "Rece and Bob have formed a good partnership after working together over the years on games and in the studio. We felt this would be a good opportunity to pair them together on a regular basis."
Whether or not the Kentucky controversy played any role in Knight's new position, it will probably be advantageous for ESPN. At the very least, two routine games on the SEC schedule will draw more viewers than they otherwise would have.
You can argue the downside is that the spectacle of Knight calling a Kentucky game will overshadow anything that happens on the court. You can argue that it's an unnecessary distraction that will detract from the games themselves.
But to me, viewers will benefit. Nothing that happens on the floor those two nights will be anywhere near as entertaining to watch as Knight giving grudging respect to Calipari, finding new reasons to rip him or dancing around the controversy altogether.
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