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Looking at the picture to the right of UK’s student tailgate area, you wouldn’t think for a second that it was a college football gameday in the south. But that was the scene in Lexington this weekend for the Cats’ game against No. 6-ranked South Carolina.
After the news broke that UK President Eli Capilouto was banning all alcohol, DJs and bands along Cooper Drive and in the traditional fraternity/sorority tailgating area (the “bowl”), everyone assumed the tailgating situation on Saturday was going to be less lively than usual. But the truth is, there just simply wasn’t a tailgate scene. And by extension, attendance in the student section during the game was poor.
Most believe that Capilouto bringing the hammer down had to do with a fight that went down in the tailgate area before the UK-Western Kentucky game. A video surfaced of the fight, and was posted on several UK fan sites and message boards. Then this week, Capilouto passed the ruling that would effectively “cancel” the student tailgating scene.
Needless to say, some students were not happy about this.
“While I understand the need for some kind of punishment following what happened two weeks ago at the tailgate, I don’t think essentially “cancelling” the tailgate will help. I don’t think it’s fair that the whole student body be punished for what a small group of people did…Now, instead of tailgating on campus in a somewhat protected environment, students will be tailgating off campus,” said Lydia Whitman, a sophomore at UK. “Also, after seeing the video, I wonder where the police were when students were breaking up the fight. I think instead of giving students citations for underaged drinking, the undercover cops should be more concerned with bigger issues.”
Most students understood the president’s point of view, but thought he could have gone about the situation in a different way.
“I think it’s ridiculous to go from no warning to nobody allowed there,” said Brett Uminger, another student at UK. “I do understand where he is coming from, but I also think that shutting that down is only going to cause people to rage harder elsewhere and be more disruptive.”
While there have not been any reports of “incidents” during off-campus tailgates, the truth remains that the scene at Commonwealth Stadium was bleak.
“It is a shame to see the amazing time that I experienced as an undergrad to be taken away from those younger students,” said Sean Howard, a 2011 UK graduate. “Tailgating is a time that should be about students socializing with each other and rallying behind our football team. It is a shame that the delinquent behavior of a few can ruin a good thing for an entire community.”
While there is no official number for how many students were at the actual game, the majority of the student section’s upper deck was empty. After halftime, the students started filing out as soon as the Gamecocks went up on the Cats by four points heading into the fourth quarter. An entire quarter was remaining, UK was down by less than a touchdown to a top-10 team and a good portion of the stadium was already filing out, especially in the student section.
It’s hard to blame only Capilouto for the decreased attendance on the students’ part. However, judging by the reactions of those I talked to, his ruling was certainly the major contributor. Sad as it may seem, the chance to drink and be in the company of friends is one of the main factors in a UK student’s decision to attend a football game at Commonwealth this season. Only the hardcore football fans will be the ones who continue to attend, especially when there is no incentive otherwise to be there (i.e. parties, alcohol, etc).
President Capilouto is going to have to think long and hard about his tailgating decision before UK’s next home game. While the fight that happened at the WKU game was belligerent and irresponsible, that small group of people is not representative of the entire student tailgating scene at UK. If student attendance at the games continues to dwindle as it has been doing, Capilouto will have to consider bringing back the Cooper Drive tailgating opportunities – whether they choose to come to the game or not because of the team is the students’ choice. However, their attendance issues are actually something very preventable, and Capilouto should consider looking at the big picture rather than at one irresponsible scene.