Sports in Kentucky

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High school sportsEdit

Despite the national stereotype that Kentucky is a die hard basketball state, at the high school level the state produces many times over more top nationally ranked football players than basketball. In the past ten years the state has produced many players ranked among the top 20 in their position, notably Tim Couch, Chris Redman, Dennis Johnson, Eric Shelton, Michael Bush, Brian Brohm, Mario Urrutia, Earl Heyman, and Micah Johnson.

UK has had practically a monopoly on the state's top players, although UofL has made modest in roads in the past five years. The football Cardinals have historically depended on the states of Florida and Georgia for a majority of their talent, and currently over 65% of the team's starters are from those two states.

College sportsEdit

Despite a recent surge in the quality of the Louisville Cardinals football team, college basketball remains the sport of choice in most of Kentucky. Western Kentucky University's men's basketball program is one of the ten most winning in the history of the NCAA, and has one Final Four appearance (1971). Murray State University is a perennial threat to win the Ohio Valley Conference and appear in the NCAA Tournament, having done so 13 times. However, the question in Kentucky college athletics is most often "Red or Blue?" referring to the primary colors of its two flagship universities - the University of Kentucky (blue) and the University of Louisville (red).

The Battle for the BluegrassEdit

The rivalry between the North Carolina Tar Heels and the Duke Blue Devils is perhaps the only in-state basketball rivalry that compares on a national scale to the rivalry between the Kentucky Wildcats and Louisville Cardinals. A 2002 Sports Illustrated poll found that 63% of Kentuckians are Kentucky Wildcats fans, while 16% are Louisville Cardinals fans.[1] However, in recent years the gap has closed considerably.

A 2006 Lexington Herald-Leader article stated that interest in UofL sports is surging across the state of Kentucky, especially in Hopkinsville and Owensboro.[2] An October 21, 2006 Louisville Courier-Journal article also stated that the total sales of UofL merchandise has tripled since 2001 and that the school now ranks 32nd nationally in sales, up from 41st in 2001. UofL ranks 2nd in the Big East Conference and the 3rd highest among all urban universities (to Southern California and Miami) in merchandise sales. UK's merchandise sales have steadily remained around 14th in the nation, by far the best in the state. UofL now has more registered collegiate license plates than the University of Kentucky (18,300 to 17,000); a fourfold increase since 2004. In 1995 UK had a 15,000 plate lead on UofL.[3]

Fuel was added to the fire of this rivalry when Rick Pitino, the UK coach who led the Wildcats to their 1996 National Title before leaving to become coach of the NBA's Boston Celtics, returned to the Bluegrass State to coach the Cardinals in 2001. Many in the state compared the move to the treachery of Benedict Arnold. The situation was exacerbated by the transfer of underachieving Wildcat power forward/center Marvin Stone. Stone's best season with the Cats was his sophomore season, when the former McDonald's All-American averaged 6.0 points and 4.6 rebounds per game.[4] Under Pitino, however, Stone averaged 10.7 points and 7.3 rebounds for the Cards, including a 16 point, 7 rebound, 2 block performance against the Wildcats in an 81-63 Louisville win on December 28.[5]

College basketballEdit


UK has dominated the basketball rivalry, winning 70% of games in the modern series which began in 1983

It is perhaps impossible to overstate the importance of college basketball in Kentucky. At least three college coaching legends have been associated with programs in the state of Kentucky: Adolph Rupp (UK), Denny Crum (UofL), and Rick Pitino (both UK and UofL). Also, several successful NBA players played in the state, including Pat Riley, Wes Unseld, and Dan Issel. Only the UCLA Bruins have won more NCAA championships than the Kentucky Wildcats, with the Wildcats ranking first in almost every other significant measure of a successful program.

Team Kentucky Wildcats Louisville Cardinals
All Time Win-Loss Record (Rank) 1,926-596 (1st) 1,505-806 (15th)
All Time Winning Percentage (Rank) 76.3% (1st) 65.1% (12th)
NCAA Tourney Appearances 46 32
NCAA Tourney Wins (Rank) 96 (1st) 53 (7th)
NCAA Final Fours 13 8
NCAA Titles 7 2

Eras of dominanceEdit

The impressive history of college basketball in Kentucky has been punctuated by a few notable eras of dominance by the two flagship schools.

UK: Rupp's early yearsEdit

Under Adolph Rupp, the Kentucky Wildcats were the most dominant team in the early history of the NCAA Tournament. From 1942 to 1958 the Wildcats won four NCAA titles (1948, 1949, 1951, 1958.) They also won the 1942 National Invitational Tournament.

UofL: The Team of the 1980sEdit

The Louisville Cardinals were dubbed "The Team of the 1980s", winning their only two national titles during that decade (1980 and 1986). (Only the Indiana Hoosiers equaled this number during the 1980s.) Under coach Denny Crum, UofL was the only team to go to four Final Fours during the decade, and had more wins than any other team over that span. Darrell Griffith won the John Wooden Award in 1980 and in 1986 "Never Nervous" Pervis Ellison became the first freshman to ever be named NCAA Final Four MVP, a feat equaled only by Syracuse's Carmelo Anthony.

UK: The Team of the 1990sEdit

The Kentucky Wildcats were the most dominant team of the 1990s, winning two national titles (1996 and 1998), with three straight trips to the NCAA Championship game and four total trips to the Final Four. UK's 1996 team National Championship team is considered one of the best NCAA teams of all time, as evidenced by the nine players on the roster who played in the NBA.[6]

College footballEdit


UofL has recently dominated the football rivalry, winning 70% of the games in the Modern Series which began in 1994, UK leads the all time series, 10-8

For all their success in basketball, the Kentucky Wildcats have been unable to remain consistently competitive in football. Playing in the brutally competitive Southeastern Conference, the Wildcats won an SEC title in 1950 under legendary coach Paul "Bear" Bryant and shared SEC titles in 1976 and 1977 under Fran Curci. Bryant left the school in 1953; some attribute the move to a conclusion that the football program's popularity would always remain a distant second to the basketball program, at that time coached by Adolph Rupp, a legend in his own right.

As recently as the 1980s, the Louisville Cardinals were considered one of the worst Division I football programs in the NCAA, and the school seriously considered disbanding the football program altogether. However, UofL hired legendary coach Howard Schnellenberger in 1984. The team has continued to rise under coaches John L. Smith and Bobby Petrino. On November 2, 2006, the 5th-ranked UofL football team defeated the 3rd-ranked West Virginia Mountaineers in what was dubbed "The Dream Game", the second time in Big East history that two top-5 teams had ever met. The game was ranked as the most-viewed ESPN Thursday night football game ever.[7] The game marked a new high in a program that had been on the rise for several years.

Only one week later the Cardinals were defeated by a third undefeated Big East team, the upstart and 15th-ranked Rutgers Scarlet Knights, in what was billed as the biggest college football game in the New York City Metro Area in over 60 years; with the Empire State Building even being lit with the Rutgers team colors. The games was also one the highest rated ESPN Thursday Night games ever as a record crowd in Piscataway, New Jersey stormed the field in celebration. The loss ended the Cardinals' national title hopes, but the team did receive a bid to the FedEx Orange Bowl. On January 2nd the Cardinals defeated Wake Forest 24-13[8] in the Orange Bowl to claim the teams first BCS Bowl win.

List of NCAA teamsEdit

School Nickname Division Conference
University of Kentucky Wildcats/GymKats I Southeastern Conference
University of Louisville Cardinals I Big East Conference
Eastern Kentucky University Colonels/Lady Colonels I Ohio Valley Conference
Morehead State University Eagles I Ohio Valley Conference/Pioneer Football League
Murray State University Racers/Lady Racers/Thoroughbreds I Ohio Valley Conference
Western Kentucky University Hill Toppers/Lady Toppers I Sun Belt Conference/Missouri Valley Conference
Bellarmine University Knights I/II Great Western Lacrosse League/Great Lakes Valley Conference
Kentucky State University Thorobreds/Thorobrettes II Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference
Kentucky Wesleyan College Panthers II Great Lakes Valley Conference
Northern Kentucky University Norse II Great Lakes Valley Conference
Centre College Colonels III Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference
Thomas More College Saints III Presidents' Athletic Conference
Transylvania University Pioneers III Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference

List of NAIA teamsEdit

School Nickname Conference
Alice Lloyd College Eagles Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference
Asbury College Eagles Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference
Berea College Mountaineers Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference
Brescia University Bearcats Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference
Campbellsville University Tigers Mid-South Conference
University of the Cumberlands Patriots Mid-South Conference
Georgetown College Tigers Mid-South Conference
Lindsey Wilson College Blue Raiders Mid-South Conference
Mid-Continent University Cougars TranSouth Athletic Conference
Midway College Eagles Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference
Pikeville College Bears/Lady Bears Mid-South Conference
Spalding University Golden Eagles Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference


School Nickname
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary N/A
Simmons College of Kentucky Panthers

Professional sports teamsEdit

Professional football, baseball and basketball all at one time had teams in Kentucky. The National Football League and National League had early franchises in Louisville, and the Kentucky Colonels were a mainstay of the American Basketball Association but folded when that league merged with the National Basketball Association in 1976. The New ABA added a Louisville-based team called the Kentucky Colonels, which was active from 2004 to 2006, and announced it would locate an expansion team in Murray in 2007.[9] That team was originally also named the Kentucky Colonels, but the name was changed to the Kentucky Retros in March 2007 in deference to the tradition of the Louisville-based teams.[10] The team eventually announced that they would relocate to Louisville [11]. Pikeville will also become home to pro basketball in the 2007-2008 season, with the East Kentucky Miners joining the Continental Basketball Association [12].

The state is home to several minor league sports teams. The Louisville Bats of the International League are the AAA affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds. The Lexington Legends are a Class A minor league baseball team affiliated with the Houston Astros in the South Atlantic League. The Florence Freedom are a member of the Frontier League's eastern division, playing their home games at Champion Window Field.

Minor league baseballEdit




Former Professional TeamsEdit

  • South Atlantic League
    • Lexington Giants (defunct)
    • Lexington Indians (defunct)
    • Lexington Red Sox (defunct)

Auto racingEdit


  1. ^ Splendor in the Bluegrass
  2. ^ Where is everybody? - Lexington Herald-Leader
  3. ^ Racking up sales - The Courier-Journal
  4. ^ Prospect Profile - Marvin Stone
  5. ^ Player Profile - Marvin Stone
  6. ^ Another future NBA player, {{subst:#ifexist:Scott Padgett|[[Scott Padgett|]]|[[Wikipedia:Scott Padgett|]]}}, was attending UK at the time, but was academically ineligible for the 1995-96 season.
  7. ^ West Virginia-Louisville Ranks as Most-Viewed ESPN Thursday Night Football Game Ever
  8. ^ Louisville defeats Wake Forrest 24-13 in the Orange Bowl
  9. ^ "American Basketball Association team looks to bring new energy to Murray". The Murray State News. {{subst:#ifexist:2007-01-19|[[2007-01-19|]]|[[Wikipedia:2007-01-19|]]}}. Retrieved 2007-02-14. 
  10. ^ "Kentucky team announces name change". American Basketball Association. 2007-03-14. Retrieved 2007-03-16. 
  11. ^
  12. ^

See alsoEdit

This page uses content from the English language Wikipedia. The original content was at Sports in Kentucky. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with this Familypedia wiki, the content of Wikipedia is available under the Creative Commons License.

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