State Street lessons could help city, UK save other neighborhoods

April 12, 2014

StateStreetCrowds celebrate March 28 in the State Street area. Photo by Jonathan Palmer


How much longer must national acclaim on the basketball court be accompanied by national embarrassment in neighborhoods around the University of Kentucky campus?

Thanks to good preparation and policing, the mayhem on State Street after UK’s NCAA tournament games this year wasn’t as bad as in 2012. But it was still unacceptably violent and destructive.

This year’s toll is an embarrassment to both UK and Lexington: more than 60 injuries requiring treatment; more than 50 arrests; more than 125 fires, including a couple dozen couches.

“It’s a miracle that more people and property didn’t get hurt,” said Diane Lawless, who has represented that area on the Urban County Council since 2009. “This isn’t a spontaneous celebration. Goodwill says they come in and buy every piece of upholstered furniture they have. This is a planned riot, period.”

UK sports celebrations started getting out of hand in 1996, when some of the 10,000 fans gathered at Woodland and Euclid avenues to celebrate the national basketball championship smashed car windows and overturned a TV news van, which caught fire. There were fewer problems after the 1998 championship.

Things got ugly in 2007, when crowds in the student rental neighborhood around State Street celebrated UK’s football victories over Louisville and LSU by adopting West Virginia University’s noxious tradition of couch burning.

Five years later, when Kentucky beat Kansas for the NCAA championship, State Street went wild. There were dozens of injuries from fires and flying beer bottles, damaged vehicles and nearly 100 arrests.

It is worth noting that the vast majority of students and others who celebrate after UK games don’t hurt people or damage property. The crowd that partied this year along South Limestone didn’t become destructive.

The problem is that State Street is a very different kind of neighborhood. Some students and outside trouble-makers see it as a place where they can become violent and destructive without consequences.

Both UK and the city helped create this problem. Demand for student housing in recent decades led investors to buy former single-family houses in older neighborhoods around campus. Those houses were demolished and replaced by cheaply built apartment complexes, or they were fitted with barn-like additions and crammed with students. Yards were graveled for parking lots.

Some neighborhoods fought back, using tools including historic overlays to limit the damage. But State, Crescent, Elizabeth and other streets north of Waller Avenue and west of Limestone were overwhelmed. Homeowners and families that were stabilizing influences in those neighborhood fled. City officials took more than a decade to limit further damage to the neighborhoods by student-rental landlords.

UK officials made the problems worse in 1997 by banning alcohol from fraternity and sorority houses. With students essentially prohibited from drinking on campus, they rented “party houses” in adjacent neighborhoods. Social media made it easier for students to find those parties and evade police efforts to shut them down.

Police have refined their tactics, both to try to prevent destructive behavior and violence and to document lawbreaking for prosecution. From all accounts, they handled this year’s State Street mayhem as well as could be expected.

City code enforcement officers have tried to crack down on violations in student-rental neighborhoods, but sanctions remain minimal. The city also is working on better data collection and sharing methods to make it easier to spot troubling trends in neighborhoods before they become problems.

Because existing student-rental properties were grandfathered in when city restrictions were tightened, it’s hard to reverse much of the damage, said Derek Paulsen, the city’s planning commissioner.

“I hate to say State Street is lost, but when it gets to that level, about the only thing you can do is call the police in,” Paulsen said. “From a planning perspective, the question may be, how do we transition that neighborhood out of what it is now to something more productive?”

UK officials have taken some positive steps, including construction of new on-campus residence halls. Last May, President Eli Capilouto appointed a work group of UK and city officials to look at student alcohol habits and policies and their effect on the campus and surrounding neighborhoods. The group completed its report in December, but UK has not yet released its findings and recommendations.

Because sports-related mayhem is largely fueled by alcohol, UK’s next steps will be crucial. But there is more the city could do as well. These safety and town-gown issues are hardly unique to Lexington; other places have dealt with them for years. Here are some things UK and the city should consider:

■ Accept the fact that college students drink. Make campus alcohol policies more lenient in ways that teach students who choose to drink and are of legal age to do it responsibly.

■ Extend the student code of conduct to off-campus behavior, as is done with UK athletes. That would require more information-sharing and coordination between UK and the city, but students might be less likely to engage in destructive behavior off-campus if they knew the consequences would be more serious. When expectations are high, most people will rise to meet them.

■ UK, city and neighborhood residents should put more emphasis on integrating students into the neighborhoods, from social events to beautification projects. If students feel as if they belong in a neighborhood, they will be less likely to destroy it.

■ City officials and police should more aggressively channel celebrations away from State Street to South Limestone or other commercial districts, which can be more effectively policed. Maybe State Street should be closed on big game nights to people who can’t prove they live there.

■ The city must get tough with problem landlords. That could include stricter rules on zoning, building permits and code requirements, with bigger penalties for violations. There also might be ways to hold landlords accountable for tenants’ destructive behavior.

“There are some good landlords out there,” Lawless said. “But there also are a lot of student landlords who couldn’t care less except for stuffing their pockets.”

■ UK and the city should buy some houses in campus neighborhoods that are near the tipping point of too many student rentals. Those houses could be rented or sold with restrictions to faculty, staff and city employees. That would help stabilize those neighborhoods, and it would provide affordable housing for lower-paid employees near their workplaces.

“We still have some very good, viable neighborhoods around the university,” Paulsen said. “We need to learn the lessons of State Street to keep them that way.”  

For good and bad, Matt Jones stirs passions in Big Blue Nation

December 22, 2013


University of Kentucky men’s basketball coach John Calipari, center, talks with Matt Jones on Oct. 4 in a parking lot behind Memorial Coliseum while Jones was doing a remote broadcast of his daily Kentucky Sports Radio show. At right is Drew Franklin, one of Jones’ staff members. Photos by Tom Eblen


Love him or hate him, it is hard to ignore Matt Jones, who has built the Kentucky Sports Radio franchise he created eight years ago into a major force in the Big Blue Nation.

As the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team prepares for Saturday’s annual game against archrival Louisville, huge numbers of UK fans will be reading, which Jones calls the “largest independent sports blog in America.”

They will come for an entertaining mix of news, commentary, rumor and humor, delivered in what the blog calls “the most ridiculous manner possible.” Jones and his staff are constantly posting comments and links to the blog on Twitter.

Each weekday morning, many of the blog’s readers also will listen to Jones’ two-hour radio call-in show, which is broadcast on 24 stations throughout Kentucky, including WLAP-AM in Lexington. The show is one of the most popular sports podcasts on iTunes.

But since basketball season never really ends in Kentucky, this won’t be much different than a typical week.

Last summer, Jones and sidekicks Ryan Lemond and Drew Franklin spent five weeks doing remote radio broadcasts all over the state. When the tour came to Lexington, hundreds showed up at Whitaker Bank Ballpark to watch them talk.

Nearly 200 fans attended their remote broadcast Oct. 4 from an asphalt basketball court behind Memorial Coliseum. That was during the annual campout of UK fans waiting to get tickets for Big Blue Madness, the official start of basketball practice.

Justin Whited of London was one of them, and he was eager to pose for a picture with Jones. “They talk about topics we like,” he said of the KSR crew. “They’re funny, too.”

Jeff Swann, who waited in line for Jones’ autograph, said he listens to the show every morning with co-workers at the Ford Motor Co. assembly plant in Louisville. “We get a kick out of the callers,” Swann said. “And he has good guests.”

Midway through the broadcast, the best possible guest made a surprise appearance: UK Coach John Calipari joined Jones for a few minutes of banter as spectators hung on every word.

“Calipari was a huge part of our success,” Jones said in an interview, noting that the popularity of his blog and radio show soared between the time Calipari arrived in Kentucky in 2009 and three years later, when he led UK to the NCAA championship.

“Our site exploded as Cal exploded, as the Internet exploded,” he said. “Right time, right place.”

Jones also credits KSR’s success to his embrace of emerging technology, such as Twitter, and his basic approach to business: “My goal every day on the radio show and on the website is to give the consumer what they want.”

KSR’s approach also has included attacking traditional sports media. Individual journalists have been lampooned in blog posts and manipulated images. A few social media posts about them have been personal and vulgar.

But journalists say what angers them most is that KSR writers lift their reporting without credit, a violation of journalism ethics. Jones counters that much of that material comes from news conferences, which he considers fair game.

“They get mad because I’m not sitting there and I have the same stuff they do,” he said. “That’s just petty.”

Lifting photos is a bigger issue. The Herald-Leader, the Courier-Journal, the Kentucky Kernel and other news organizations have repeatedly demanded that KSR’s blog stop reposting their copyright photographs without permission.

“I think Matt Jones and KSR act as though they’re traditional media when it suits them, but they turn on traditional media when it suits them,” said Creig Ewing, sports editor of the Courier-Journal in Louisville. “They play it both ways.”

Jones’ media model has become common in the big-money worlds of sports and politics, where the values of journalism have been replaced by the values of show business. Jones is more Howard Stern than Tom Hammond.

“I think we’re hated by everyone” in the media, Jones said. “But I like that. I’ll be honest with you, it doesn’t bother me. So long as our fans like us, I don’t care what our competitors, or peers, or whatever think.

“I’m not a journalist,” he added. “I consider myself to be somewhat of an entertainer and a news processor. Am I objective? I think I would say I’m as objective as any UK fan that wants his team to win.”

Always a fan

UK sports has always been a passion for Matthew Harper Jones, who was born in Lexington in 1978 and lived in Cynthiana before his parents divorced. His mother, Karen Blondell, married now-retired school teacher Larry Blondell in 1985, and the family moved to Middlesboro. She is the commonwealth’s attorney in Bell County.

An only child, Jones went to basketball games with his late grandfather, including watching future UK star Richie Farmer play high school ball in Clay County. The family didn’t have tickets to Rupp Arena but went to the Southeastern Conference Tournament almost every year.

Jones graduated from Middlesboro High School and Transylvania University before earning a law degree from Duke University. He clerked for three federal courts before practicing law for five years, first with the firm Frost Brown Todd and then on his own as he was starting Kentucky Sports Radio.

In addition to sports, Jones is passionate about politics. His liberal bent led him to support Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004, while Jones was clerking in Washington.

Dean’s candidacy fizzled, but his campaign’s pioneering use of emerging Internet technology fascinated Jones: “I sort of thought about all of those things and said, ‘That stuff can be done with Kentucky!'”

Jones began doing a sports podcast for the website Kentucky Sports Report, but the arrangement didn’t last long.

“They thought it was too controversial, so I started as a place to put the podcast,” he said. The podcast had few listeners, but a blog he added attracted a following. “I’ve often said it goes to show the randomness of life,” Jones said. “If (Kentucky Sports Report) had just let me put my podcast on there, I probably would have done it for a few weeks, nobody would have cared and I would have quit.

“But once they sort of said ‘You can’t do it,’ I was determined to show them that I could be successful,” he said. “A lot of things we’ve done has been my belligerence at being told ‘that’s not going to work’ and me saying, ‘Well, I’m going to show you.'”

Building a franchise

Jones co-owns the KSR website with a friend, Andrew Jefferson. It employs two full-time writers, Drew Franklin and Tyler Thompson, who works from her home in Nashville, and a part-time writer, Ally Tucker. It also uses unpaid student interns.

When people complain about the blog’s frat-boy humor, Jones notes that two of his three paid writers are women. “I’m proud of that,” he said.

The blog averages more than 150,000 unique visitors a day, with page views ranging from 180,000 up to 220,000 at the height of basketball season, Jones said. All content is free to readers, with revenues coming from advertising and merchandise sales. Jones wouldn’t disclose profits, but he said the site “is much more successful than I ever expected.”

The blog’s success led three years ago to the radio show partnership with Clear Channel Communications. Jones’ on-air partner is Lemond, who covered sports for WLEX-TV for 11 years before leaving in 2007 to sell real estate, which he continues to do. He joined KSR in 2011.

Jones and Lemond said they think the show appeals to both men and women because they not only talk about sports, but about their lives as UK fans and the culture and lifestyle that has grown up around Kentucky basketball.

“As a journalist, you’re not supposed to be a fan,” said Lemond, who does the show from a Lexington studio while Jones usually works from a studio in Louisville, where he lives. “But on this show, you can be as much of a fan as the people calling in.”

Jones said he thinks the show’s secret ingredient is his personal chemistry, on and off the air, with Lemond, 47, and Franklin, 28, who joined KSR in 2009 after graduating from UK with a marketing degree. They describe each other as close friends, almost brothers.

“He comes across as abrasive on the radio, but he has a big heart,” Lemond said of Jones. Added Franklin: “Matt’s great to work with — probably the smartest guy I know.”

Jones has expanded the KSR brand to other media gigs, which include a one-minute commentary on WKYT-TV’s late-night newscast and work as a sideline reporter for UK’s official radio broadcast team.

He and Louisville radio personality Tony Vanetti do Cats-Cards debate segments for WAVE-TV and the Voice Tribune, a weekly newspaper in Louisville.

“He’s got the invaluable trait that radio talk show hosts have to have — he gets under people’s skin. That’s gold in this industry,” Vanetti said. “He does his homework, and he’s a great debater. I love to get in the ring with him.”

Vanetti said they are good friends, but he understands why Jones rubs some fans and other media people the wrong way. “He can be harsh,” he said. “He gets personal, no question. He is playing to his audience to the Nth degree.”

Beyond UK sports, Jones has provided color at big events for the Tennis Channel and He worked the Masters golf tournament for a partnership between Izod and Maxim magazine. Jones even had a cameo appearance in actress Laura Bell Bundy’s new music video, Kentucky Dirty.

Jones blogged about college basketball for, but the deal lasted only six months. “I sucked at it, because I didn’t care about it,” he said. “They wanted me to be a reporter, and I’m not a reporter. I’m an entertainer, a commentator.”

Friends and critics alike say Jones, who is single, can be an intense, volatile personality. “I create strong opinions, pro and con, in people,” Jones said.

For a KSR blog post celebrating Jones’ 35th birthday Aug. 28, Lemond contributed a humorous list: Top 10 Things You Need To Know About Matthew Harper Jones. Three of the 10 were: “He yells at people a lot.”

Jones spent two years as host of Kentucky Sports Television on Time Warner Cable, then called Insight, but his contract wasn’t renewed in June 2012. Those who worked closely with him there declined to comment on him or the circumstances of his departure.

“I was very difficult to get along with for a period of time, and that’s my fault,” Jones said. “I wish I had some of that time back.”

“Matt’s a big personality,” said Kenny Colston, who was a political reporter at Insight when Jones was there and now edits The Oldham Era newspaper near Louisville. “You either love him or hate him.”

Many Kentucky sports journalists fall into the latter category. Several said they dislike Jones because of the way he has treated them or others. There have been a few nasty exchanges between them and Jones on Twitter and Facebook, but none wanted to speak about him for attribution in this article.

The Calipari factor

Jones said he accepts some of the blame for his poor relationships with journalists. But he also said he thinks many of them are jealous of his success — his audience, his good relationship with Calipari and the access that has provided.

“A huge part, maybe the most important part of them not liking me, is the access we have,” he said.

“Coach Cal does have his go-to guys, and that does rub people the wrong way,” Lemond said. “But everybody had equal opportunity to get to know (Calipari) and get on his good side.”

When Calipari took UK’s 2012 NCAA title team on a bus tour across Kentucky to show off their trophy, Jones was invited to ride along.

“Everybody assumes, ‘Well, Matt just does what Calipari wants,'” Jones said. “Let’s face it: 98 percent of the things Cal does I agree with. We have a similar mindset. I would ask the average person, ‘How many times has he screwed up?'”

“Remember, I ran this site when (Calipari’s predecessor) Billy Gillispie was here,” he added. “And when Billy Gillispie was here, he wouldn’t speak to me.”

Part of the tension between Jones and others in the press box stems from their radically different views about the role and ethics of news media in college sports. Jones said he appreciates good journalism, but he’s running a business.

“In no other business is it the case that not giving the consumer what they want makes sense,” Jones said of journalism. As an example, he cited the Pulitzer Prize the Herald-Leader received in 1986 for exposing cash payoffs to UK basketball players, a scandal that led to major reforms in the program.

“To the average fan, that’s the worst thing you all have ever done,” he said. “My goal is not to win the state journalism award. My goal is to make the consumer happy.”

Jones thinks journalists should focus less on controversy and more on what fans want to read and hear. KSR doesn’t ignore “negative” stories about UK sports, Jones said. Once they break, he and his staff comment on them. But they don’t go looking for them.

“I like breaking stories, but I don’t like to break the bad-news stories,” Jones said. “I let someone else do that. For my customers, breaking bad news doesn’t help me.”

“Clearly, KSR has found an audience,” said Peter Baniak, the editor of the Herald-Leader. “But there also is a strong audience for journalism that examines sports, the business of sports and other institutions from every angle.”

The biggest issue KSR has faced with other media is its use of their copyright photographs without permission or payment. KSR has received many “cease and desist” letters. Jones hasn’t been sued, but that could change.

The Kentucky Kernel, UK’s student newspaper, reported Nov. 6 that two tires had been slashed on senior guard Jon Hood’s Toyota Tundra and he had gotten a $25 ticket because he couldn’t move it from a university parking lot. Much of the Kernel’s online report, including two photos, was quickly copied onto KSR’s blog.

“We have made a claim to him and he’s denied it, and we’re in negotiations with him,” said Jon Fleischaker, a prominent Louisville media attorney representing the Kernel. “I am hopeful that we can do that without litigation.”

Jones declined to comment on the Kernel issue. But he said access to photos is a big part of the partnership he announced Dec. 9 with 247Sports. That company operates the website, which hires freelance photographers to shoot UK games. Since then, those photos also have been appearing on KSR’s blog.

What’s the future?

For the first time since he started KSR in 2005, Jones said he is satisfied.

Jones attributes much of the company’s success to the team he has assembled. Maintaining that team chemistry and keeping up with emerging technology will be key to holding and growing KSR’s audience, he said.

“You have to have traffic to succeed,” he said. “We’ll just have to adapt with the times. Whatever the technology is out there, (I want to) make KSR the No. 1 brand.”

Jones blogs less than he used to — “blogging is a young man’s game” — and that has him thinking about his own future.

“I’m an OK writer, but I’m not really a writer. There are a lot of people better than me,” he said. “I’m OK on television, but I’m not great on television. But I’m good at radio. When you’re doing something you love and you can feel it click, you just want to keep doing it.”

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Nebraska echoes coal lodge flap; results different

October 26, 2011

Does this sound familiar?

An energy industry is controversial because of its environmental impact. So a company tries to buy public goodwill by donating money to the state university’s most popular athletic program.

I’m not talking about the Wildcat Coal Lodge, the new on-campus luxury dormitory for the University of Kentucky’s basketball team. The lodge’s name — plus a shrine to the coal industry that will be in its front lobby — were requirements of an $8 million donation from coal industry executives.

The university’s 2009 decision to accept the donation with those strings attached created controversy. That is because surface coal mining has caused extensive damage to Appalachian Kentucky’s land, air and water.

I’m also not talking about the $85,000 the industry group Friends of Coal is spending to sponsor three athletic events, including the UK-University of Louisville football game and Big Blue Madness.

No, the scenario I am referring to played out recently in Nebraska. That is where TransCanada is trying to build a pipeline across that state and several others to carry oil from Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

The pipeline is controversial in Nebraska because the company insists on building it through the porous soil of the state’s Sandhills region and the Ogallala Aquifer, which provides water to large areas of Nebraska and parts of seven other Western states. A pipeline leak in those areas could create an environmental disaster.

TransCanada has refused to change the pipeline route. On Monday, Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman called a special legislative session for Nov. 1 to address the issue.

University of Nebraska football is a religious experience in that state, similar to UK basketball in Kentucky. But the Lincoln Journal-Star reported that cheering turned to boos when a highlights video of the Cornhuskers’ 1978 conference championship team began showing on Memorial Stadium’s huge HuskerVision screen during the Sept. 10 game against Fresno State.

The video was titled “Husker Pipeline” and seemed to be as much an advertisement for TransCanada as a tribute to the team. Four days later, after fans complained, the university ended TransCanada’s football sponsorship.

“I want to make it clear that the athletic department has no position, either pro or con, regarding the proposed TransCanada Pipeline,” Athletic Director Tom Osborne, a former Republican congressman and Nebraska head football coach, said in a statement.

The university explained that IMG College — the same marketing firm that works with UK Athletics — had signed the deal before the pipeline controversy erupted.

“Our athletic events are intended to entertain and unify our fan base by providing an experience that is not divisive,” Osborne said in his statement.

It is unclear what the TransCanada football sponsorship was worth to the university. Pipeline opponents estimate the company has spent several hundred thousand dollars on pro-pipeline advertising in Nebraska.

The Nebraska and Kentucky situations make for interesting comparisons.

In both states, the essential debate is about whether creating short-term jobs is worth the potential for long-term environmental damage. But the situations get more complicated from there.

TransCanada has had a presence in Nebraska for only about three decades. King Coal has ruled Kentucky politics for more than a century. Few Kentucky elected officials are brave enough to buck the cash-rich coal industry.

In Nebraska, the pipeline would be an environmental threat only if it leaks. (Building it would have some environmental impact, but, in the long run, that impact would be less than trucking millions of barrels of oil cross-country.)

In Kentucky, though, coal’s environmental damage has been real and apparent for decades, especially as surface mines have gotten bigger and more destructive. The beautifully reclaimed meadows and real estate developments the coal industry likes to brag about represent only a tiny fraction of mined land. Mine-related air pollution and water pollution have been significant.

You could argue that it was easy for the University of Nebraska to take a principled stand. The thousands of dollars it stood to gain from the TransCanada sponsorship paled in comparison to the millions the coal industry gave UK for its tribute lodge.

But that brings us to a question: Is the issue one of principle, or merely price?

Midway clothier gives jackets the royal treatment

August 7, 2011

When Crittenden Rawlings was president of Oxxford Clothes, he went to a Sotheby’s auction and bought a suit that had belonged to the Duke of Windsor. The former Edward VIII may have been a lousy king, but he sure knew how to dress.

Rawlings studied that suit, which was handmade in 1939 by a tailor in Rome, hoping to discover techniques Oxxford could use. Alas, it didn’t fit his company’s power-suit image. Oxxford customers may run America, but they are not flashy dressers.

A few years later, after a brief and boring retirement, the Kentucky native studied the Duke’s suit again. He loved the way it was made, and he thought other men would, too.

Rawlings also remembered a lesson from Ralph Lauren, whose tailored clothing division he used to run: “People in the industry would always say, ‘Ralph, this will never work,’ and he would say, ‘Just watch me.'”

That was seven years ago. Rawlings, 71, now designs and manufactures his own Crittenden Clothes line using touches from the Duke’s suit and his own taste, refined over a 52-year career in the high-end garment industry.

Crittenden Clothes are sold in more than 100 men’s stores across the country, and in a small shop in Midway, where Rawlings and his wife, Judy, live above the store. Loyal customers include John Calipari, the University of Kentucky’s sharp-dressing basketball coach.

Calipari said his Memphis haberdasher recommended Crittenden Clothes when he moved here, so he stopped in the shop. That was a suit, two jackets and several pairs of pants ago.

“He’s got good stuff, and it’s reasonably priced,” Calipari said. “And he and his wife have done such a great job with that little shop. I’m always looking for clothes that lay on me well and have nice fabric. I’m going back to get a Derby outfit next year.”

Rawlings has been thrilled with the patronage, especially since Calipari visited his shop again June 4 and mentioned it on Twitter.

“Within a few days, we had a lot of young guys walking in to see what it was all about,” he said.

What he is trying to do with Crittenden Clothes, Rawlings said, is create traditional dress clothing that is a little more casual and comfortable. He wants to use the finest fabrics and hand-sewing where it is most noticeable — for example, working sleeve buttons, which usually are found on only the most expensive jackets.

“I wanted to do a product that had custom features at a more modest price,” Rawlings said. Handmade suits cost $895, jackets go for $395 to $695 and pants cost $75 to $150.

Crittenden jackets are called “unconstructed” because, like the Duke’s coat, they don’t have shoulder padding or much internal material. Vents are on the side, European-style. Rather than full linings, Rawlings uses a construction method called French facing.

Here’s how it works: Outer material is wrapped inside the front to provide enough stiffness. Only the sleeves are lined. Body seams are piped with silk. There is no other lining except two triangles of silk on the shoulders. The style makes jackets lighter and cooler.

“I think it’s the future, particularly for sport coats,” Rawlings said. “In my opinion, no one in the industry makes a jacket this nice for this price.”

Rawlings said he searches mills in Italy, Scotland, Ireland, Japan and China for the finest woolens, linens, cottons and silks and interesting blends of them. His clothes are made in China and Japan, where he can get good hand-finishing and low labor costs.

Some Crittenden Clothes will soon be made in a Tennessee factory. Rawlings hopes to find a Kentucky manufacturer for some items. “I would love to be able to say some of our products are made in Kentucky,” he said.

Rawlings was born on a farm near Lebanon. Judy Rawlings is from Eastern Kentucky, although they met in Chicago when she was a United Airlines flight attendant. Their three grown daughters live in Los Angeles and Connecticut.

When Rawlings graduated from high school in 1957, he got a summer job helping a family friend who was a traveling salesman of men’s clothes. He liked the business so much, he never left.

Rawlings worked for Ivy League icon Norman Hilton and then the designer whose business Hilton helped launch, Ralph Lauren. He left there in 1995 to become Oxxford’s president, a job he held for seven years.

Retirement at age 63 bored Rawlings, and he realized there could be a good business in making the kind of clothing he wanted to wear. “This is a small business,” he said, “but it’s perfect for my age.”

Rawlings is especially proud that his clothes are attracting so many Kentucky customers. He designed a signature blazer for Keeneland, which is sold through the racetrack’s gift shop.

“I always had a great love for Kentucky,” Rawlings said, even after decades in New York and Chicago. “I always knew I was going to come back.”

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Digging for coal? No, for Wildcat Coal Lodge

March 30, 2011

Construction crews worked Tuesday to dig out rock and dirt for the foundation of Wildcat Coal Lodge, the new $7 million home for the University of Kentucky’s basketball players. Photo by Tom Eblen

‘Tithe’ might bring athletics, academics into balance

April 18, 2009

John Calipari is an excellent basketball coach. He seems capable of attracting top talent. He has handled his first public appearances as spiritual leader of the Wildcat Nation with aplomb.

So why the public grumbling about his eight-year, $31.65 million contract to coach the University of Kentucky’s men’s basketball team?

Tuition for UK students has skyrocketed as faculty and staff salaries have stagnated. Academic programs and services are being cut. The General Assembly charged UK with becoming a Top 20 research university, but has refused to provide the money to make it happen.

In this atmosphere, there’s only one word for Calipari’s compensation: Obscene.

I’m not blaming Calipari or Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart. I’m also not blaming their colleagues around the nation who spend ever-more obscene sums to create winning college basketball and football programs. They’re just playing in the sandboxes that state legislatures, university presidents and boards of trustees have given them.

The problem is that universities and the people who oversee them have lost sight of the reason college athletics exist. They are there to further the educational mission of the university, not to become entertainment empires unto themselves.

A recent Herald-Leader editorial helped put things into perspective. It recalled how, 21 years ago, then-UK President David Roselle dealt with tough times by getting the university’s athletics association to pay $2.5 million to support general education. The figure dropped to $1.5 million the next year, then to $1.2 million each year after that.

Since 1988, tuition has risen almost 500 percent and UK’s athletics budget has grown 389 percent, from $13.7 million to $67 million. Athletics’ financial contribution to the larger university has remained flat at $1.2 million, which goes to scholarships for non-athletes.

The editorial prompted an interesting letter to the editor from Joe Peek, UK’s Gatton Endowed Chair in International Banking and Financial Economics.

Peek noted that UK’s “self-supporting” athletic program doesn’t account for facilities, utilities, maintenance and other services the university provides to athletics. And because UK athletics wouldn’t exist without UK, he suggested that the university charge athletics a “franchise fee.”

I would suggest another approach. It’s an older form of accounting that would put into proper perspective the relationship between the university and its athletics machine: the Biblical tithe.

I’m not trying to mix church and state, although many would argue that basketball is Kentucky’s secular religion. The Bible, the Koran and other ancient religious texts offer many tried-and-true approaches to life that believers and non-believers alike can find valuable. They are, after all, the wisdom of the ages.

University athletic programs operate on a modern American ethic best described as this: “I bring in the money, so it’s mine.”

Based on this ethic, big-revenue college sports spend lavishly on coaches, facilities and perks. Sharing resources with non-revenue sports or the larger university is seen more as an act of charity than an obligation.

The tithe is based on the concept that man owes 10 percent of his “increase” to God, because without God there would be no man — just as without the University of Kentucky there would be no Wildcat basketball or football.

This approach would have UK Athletics contribute $6.7 million this year to other university purposes, rather than $1.2 million. As the success of athletics programs increased, so would the “tithe.”

I can already hear the wailing and gnashing of teeth from the high priests of our secular religion. Successful sports teams provide many benefits to a university, these people will say. Of course they do; that’s why they should get to keep 90 percent of their revenue.

How could UK possibly do this unless other National Collegiate Athletic Association programs did, too? It would put Big Blue at a competitive disadvantage with other universities.

Actually, what it might do is start a much-needed national conversation about the proper relationship between universities and the athletic industrial complex they and the television networks have created.

Kentucky officials like to think of themselves as leaders in education reform. Here’s an opportunity for reform. Go lead.

Joe Hall: UK coach’s job about more than basketball

March 26, 2009

In any high-profile leadership role, some responsibilities are obvious. Others, while less obvious, are every bit as important.

It’s true for a corporate executive, for a mayor, a governor, a president or a coach — especially if that coach wants to succeed as the head basketball coach at the University of Kentucky.

If the Big Blue Nation’s romance with Billy Clyde Gillispie ends in divorce, it won’t be because of his teams’ uninspiring performance on the basketball court these past two years, although that certainly hasn’t helped.

It will be because Gillispie has refused to embrace the less obvious — at least to him — responsibilities that come with being the spiritual leader of Kentucky’s secular religion.

Kentucky fans will never accept the notion that the Wildcat dynasty is just another basketball program, or that coaching Big Blue is just another job. And they won’t long tolerate a coach who thinks otherwise.

Here is the point in this column where you can insert your own thoughts about whether Kentucky’s basketball obsession is healthy. You might say Kentucky would be better off if the average citizen cared as much about education, good health and a cleaner environment as he does about Wildcat basketball.

But, you know, it is what it is.

So, given reality, let’s hear from the man who knows more than any other about UK fans’ expectations of their basketball coach. In 1973, Joe B. Hall succeeded the dynasty’s founder, the sport’s winningest coach. Adolph Rupp led UK for 41 years — three years longer than all five of his successors combined.

When I called Hall’s cell phone Thursday, he was having a late lunch with friends and talking about, what else, the state of Kentucky basketball.

Hall came to the hottest seat in coaching well-prepared. He grew up in Cynthiana as a UK fan, played for Rupp and spent seven years as his assistant. He understood how important UK basketball was to Kentuckians, and how important Kentuckians were to UK basketball.

“My behavior was dictated by what was good for the program,” said Hall, who turned 80 last November.

“If it meant standing at the state tournament and signing autographs for an hour, then you had to do that,” he said. “If it meant not going to bars and getting in fights with irate fans, then that was something that you had to do. If it meant being seen in communities throughout the state, looking at the local talent as much as possible, to let people feel like you were aware of your in-state talents … There’s no end to what responsibilities you have to the public.”

Hall declined to comment on how Gillispie has handled his public responsibilities.

“I haven’t been all that close to what he does to know firsthand,” he said. “I don’t care to repeat rumors; I think that’s very unfair. Personally, every contact I’ve had with him has been a pleasant one.”

Kentucky fans may demand more of their coach off-court than fans at other schools, but that’s not unfair, Hall said. Any good college or high school coach understands that his athletic program isn’t an end unto itself, but a part of an larger educational mission. And for that mission to succeed, it must have the support of its community.

“I worked at it to make the team a part of the community,” Hall said. “You wouldn’t believe the things that we did. We went around during Christmas and sung Christmas carols to the president. We had special events for the students. That’s how we started Midnight Madness, was to invite the students to a practice. Our sole aim was to make the students feel that we were doing things for them.”

Hall’s teams had Halloween parties for UK faculty children at Wildcat Lodge and played scrimmages out in the state for fans who might not otherwise see a UK game. “I could go on and on to tell you the things we did to try to show the fans that we were human and we were involved in activities that included them,” he said.

If there is a new coach, Hall said, his first question is sure to be this: “What’s expected?”

The coach’s success will depend on how that question is answered — and how well he understands that the job is about a lot more than basketball.