Kentucky has the best and worst fans in college basketball. Both of them in large quantities. More good than bad, definitely, but the bad is not an insignificant number.
When the Wildcats are eliminated in the NCAA tournament, guess which faction takes over? The lunatics. The freaks. The no-lifers whose sole coping mechanism is to lash out and blame someone because the young adults wearing their school’s jerseys lost a game to young adults wearing another school’s jerseys.
And their target is almost always the officials.
At best, complaining about officiating for more than an hour or two after a loss is an incredibly lame waste of time. At worst, it’s what Kentucky fans are doing this week to referee John Higgins, the targeted villain from the Wildcats’ 75-73 loss to North Carolina Sunday in the South Region final.
Tuesday, we heard about the bombardment of false and defamatory messages about Higgins’ business on his company Facebook page. Trying to ruin Higgins’ day-job livelihood was a terrible look for Big Blue Nation.
Wednesday it got worse, with ESPN.com running a story about death threats being made to Higgins and non-stop phone calls to both his business and his unlisted home number. Higgins met with law enforcement officials to discuss the threats, according to the report.
That is the lowest of the low.
It’s time for the good majority of Kentucky fans to speak up – and for the school administrators, who have said nothing this week, to join them. They need to exert themselves and get the minority to back down or go away, because they make the entire fan base appear no smarter or more composed than a pack of wild dogs.
This mob mentality has been festering among Kentucky fans for years – a zeal to attack anyone and everyone who can be labeled an enemy of the program. University administrators have tacitly approved and empowered a thuggish fan element. Combative, paranoid coach John Calipari has never been shy about identifying “bad guys” and fueling the fire.
In this particular case, Calipari got the ball of blame rolling Sunday. His first comment in his postgame news conference: “You know, it’s amazing that we were in that game where they practically fouled out my team. Amazing that we had a chance.”
For the record, Kentucky was called for 19 fouls and North Carolina for 18.
The main issues for Kentucky fans – and Calipari, judging by his sideline histrionics – occurred in the first half. There were two or three questionable calls against Kentucky (not all of which were whistled by Higgins, by the way). But this much is true: the Cats led by five points with five minutes to play and couldn’t hold it.
It was not a game “stolen” by the refs.
Higgins is hardly the first official targeted by Wildcats fans. Three or four years ago they went after Doug Shows, and earlier this year the “corrupt” ref was Roger Ayers.
What do all three have in common? They’ve been among the highest-rated officials in college basketball for several years and have worked multiple Final Fours. But we’re supposed to believe all of them are out to get Kentucky?
There is a nationwide obsession with officiating, and it’s not healthy. But the disease might be worst at Kentucky, where at least one website charts every single UK game an official calls, and who won.
Which is why the message boards are full of fans declaring grand officiating conspiracies against the Cats. One sad poster Wednesday morning shared the link to Higgins’ officiating record against Kentucky and declared this:
“If you check out this link, you will discover that Higgins has done 2 Elite 8 games and 2 FF games that we played in. We lost ALL 4. The only tournament games that we won were in the early rounds when he was one of the refs.
“Yeah, if he is the ref, we beat EKU and Cornell but lose to Mich St, UConn, Wisconsin and UNC!”
It could be that Kentucky beat overmatched teams and lost to really good teams, regardless of who officiated the games.
(Worth noting that this is the fan base that had a field day bashing Lynn Marshall, the Wichita State coach’s wife, for her unrestrained behavior during Kentucky’s second-round victory over the Shockers.)
Of course, going after Higgins wasn’t the only venting this week from Big Blue Nation. A faction started an email campaign to NCAA president Mark Emmert, complaining about the Heels’ very presence in the tournament while the investigation into academic fraud at the school dawdles along. (They might also have bombarded Emmert about the officiating, too.)
This is the sore-loser mentality that persists – and, no, it hardly is isolated at Kentucky. It is pathetically pervasive in college sports. Michigan football fans embarrassed themselves last November by “investigating” the officiating crew from the controversial Ohio State game in search of corruption. They, too, were fueled by a coach who went after the refs in his postgame news conference.
College sports officiating is far from perfect, and at times seems badly flawed – mostly because we have the technology to examine every missed call in minute detail, something that didn’t exist in years gone by. I’m all in favor of the best and brightest minds brainstorming for ways to improve the officiating product in both football and basketball. But lynch mobs aimed at refs are fan behavior at its worst. Reacting like a thug and going after someone because your team lost makes you a true loser.
Kentucky fans are better than that. Most of them, anyway. The good ones need to assert themselves and make sure the lunatics don’t take over.
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