Kentucky is the national champion, but at what cost to its brand?

Tom Dougherty, CEO – Stealing Share

20 April 2012

What does this say about an institution of higher learning?

I am having a tough time liking the the brand of the University of Kentucky.

Sure, winning the national championship is nothing to scoff at. Neither is garnering a 38-2 record, or going 16-0 in the SEC conference.

“Kentucky did win a championship this year, but it did so by putting together a semi-professional team that played under the umbrella of a university.”

But what does it say about Kentucky’s brand when the entirety of the team’s starting five is bowing out on their chance to earn a collegiate degree in order to jump ship to the NBA? What’s worse is that its starting five consists of three freshman and two sophomores. They haven’t even tasted the college experience — and Kentucky doesn’t care if they do, as long as these kids help the university collect a national championship.

KentuckyNow, I do get it. These five players are a few months away from first round draft status and millions upon millions of dollars in their pockets. It’s their winning lottery ticket — and personally, I don’t blame them for wanting to live their life’s dream.

The problem I have is Kentucky’s modicum of interest in branding themselves as an academic institution. Is a degree at Kentucky this meaningless?

It may be. Here’s why. These freshman, for example, can fail all of their classes during first semester and follow this up by not attending any of their second semester classes. For these one and done players, they can set up camp for a year and leave to go pro before being declared academically ineligible or kicked out.

Kentucky is fully aware of this and uses these impressionable kids to make massive amounts of money, all while the university relishes in the spotlight. Being in the spotlight allows you to draw more of the same, like moths to a flame. Kentucky did win a championship this year, but it did so by putting together a semi-professional team that played under the umbrella of a university.

Said John Calipari, the head coach at Kentucky: “They [the players] understand why they’re in school…They’re here to get an education. These guys are all going to finish the term.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if that honestly meant something at the University of Kentucky?


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