Bluegrass, bourbon and basketball

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38-1: How the Mighty Kentucky Wildcats Fell


By ANNIE MOORE
College Contributor Network

In the Commonwealth of Kentucky, few things are taken more seriously than horse racing, bourbon and college basketball. But often, when basketball rivalries are discussed, the bluegrass is overlooked. But with two teams consistently bolstering their respective legacies and contending for national titles, Kentucky has emerged as a juggernaut for college basketball.

North Carolina is obviously a powerhouse, with Duke and UNC sparring at the top of the rankings on a regular basis. And Kentucky's northern neighbor, Indiana has long been associated with the home of basketball. But the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky are making it impossible to ignore the Commonwealth.

In the past 36 seasons, the two schools have won six national titles, three each. They've also been to a combined 16 Final Fours, and 28 Elite Eights. There have been eight seasons in the last 36, in which a school from Kentucky hasn't been in the Elite Eight. Both schools have made it into the NCAA tournament 30 of the past 36 seasons. 24 of those seasons, both teams made the tournament.

The Commonwealth's biggest rivalry also boasts two Hall of Fame Head Coaches in Rick Pitino and John Calipari. While the Cards and Cats are the heavy hitters in the state, many other bluegrass ball teams have made a name for themselves in recent history. Bellarmine University in Louisville won its first Division II National Title in 2011. And several other schools such as Western Kentucky University, Morehead State and Murray State have made Division I NCAA Tournament appearances of late.

Kentucky, and Louisville more specifically, is more known for the Kentucky Derby. While the first Saturday in May is near and dear to many in the bluegrass, basketball season is almost as indoctrinated, and approached with even more fervor in some parts.

While Churchill Downs and the Derby is everything symbolic and traditional about sports in Kentucky, basketball is exciting and ubiquitous through generations and socio-economic classes, which would be one explanation why every year, basketball games boast the highest ratings of any program in the state.

Last month, the Wall Street Journal wrote an article which stated that more people watch college basketball in Louisville, Kentucky than anywhere else in the nation. The article went on to state that college basketball games get a 5.9 average rating in the Louisville area, which means that at any given time 5.9% of households are watching a college basketball game any time there is a game on. According to the article that is more than double the next closest market surveyed.

Many professional teams have discussed coming to the Louisville area, one ABA team did a brief stint in Louisville. The Kentucky Colonels were in the league for nine years in Louisville, and featured such players as Dan Issel, Louis Dampier and Artis Gilmore. But the Colonels did not join the NBA in the merger, and that was the last professional ball to reside in the Commonwealth. Now discussions of possible local professional teams always turns to the college basketball dominated market. College basketball is so commanding in Kentucky, a professional team would be very unlikely to succeed.

In this way we see the absolute fanaticism of basketball fans around the entire state. Fans can be found not only in Lexington and Louisville, but in every corner of the state. While the distilleries and horse farms have been a part of this land for hundreds of years, college basketball has become as much a part of our DNA.

And all of this basketball turns a healthy profit. According to ESPN's Darren Rovell, the University of Louisville had the biggest profit of any NCAA Tournament team in the 2013-2014 team, netting just under $25 million on the season. In the 2014-2015 season that profit was raised to $39.5 million, while Kentucky brought in $32.5 million, according to Forbes.

A combined $72 million in profits for one season means big money and big influence in the Commonwealth. Kentucky's profits, combined with fanaticism throughout the bluegrass and rich tradition and recent advancement in two major universities are just a couple reasons why when you think college basketball, you should think of Bourbon Country, and the masses of fans that call the Commonwealth of Kentucky home.

Annie Moore is a junior at the University of Louisville majoring in Communications with a Sport Administration minor. She believes Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame. Follow her on Twitter: @AnyMoreSports
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