The University of Louisville Men’s Basketball team, still fairly fresh off yet another deflating and uninspiring loss to its in-state rival, now enters the 2024 calendar year in complete and utter disarray.
Surprised in the least? You shouldn’t be. It was almost as predictable as water being wet.
But in the spirit of being completely honest and transparent, I don’t think the most pertinent or pressing issue UofL faces long-term is primarily wrapped up in just wins and losses, rivalry games or not. Yes, UofL has now managed to lose 5 of its last 6 against UK and yes it remains a controversial and frustrating topic as to whether Kenny Payne will remain the head coach for the remainder of what looks to be another lost season. Regardless, the biggest and most daunting dilemma now facing UofL is one of both relevance and apathy.
I have listened to more hours of UofL-based sports radio shows over the past couple of years than I care to admit. I’ve consistently stayed in tune with the pulse of UofL Basketball fans on X (Twitter) and Facebook. Short of diving into the murky waters of traditional message boards full of speculation and false rumors, I guess at this point I have read and heard almost every take imaginable when it comes to Louisville hoops. And yet, despite after considering and analyzing a wealth of opinions, predictions, and program prognostications, it’s my own everyday personal life as a diehard UofL fan that gives me the greatest pause and perhaps the most clarity when it comes to where I see Louisville Basketball heading.
It’s not a pretty sight. In fact, it’s troubling.
Like so many others, I became die hard UofL Basketball fan at a very early age. Specifically, I began religiously watching Louisville Basketball in 1983 and shortly thereafter attending games at storied Freedom Hall thanks in most part to my father, another diehard UofL fan.
To put it mildly, I’m spoiled. And I know it – now more than ever.
I have seen and experienced what successful “blue blood” basketball looks and feels like: three National Championships, numerous Final Fours, countless Sweet 16’s and until a handful of years ago a bare minimum expectation that every UofL team that took the floor each new season would be playing in the NCAA Tournament.
I can remember UofL exhibitions in early November being must see TV. And if for some reason you couldn’t watch the game live, you sure as hell had the VCR prepped and ready to record every second.
For literal decades it was never a matter of if UofL would make the NCAA Tournament but instead where they would be playing and who they may have to face to reach its ultimate destination.
Times have certainly changed – almost completely.
Being that I have so many wonderful, vivid memories that are cloaked with UofL success, my fandom and love for the program is pretty much eternal. It isn’t negotiable. I’m a finished product in terms of loyalty. The same sadly cannot be said, however, for the person who I most want to join me on my roller coaster journey of following and loving Louisville Basketball – my son.
Some of you reading this piece may already know the general direction I’m going from here. And if you do, then it does bring me some solace in knowing that I am not alone. You see, when it comes to sports there is nothing I want more than for my own 15 year old son to love UofL Basketball like I do. I have always selfishly wanted him to be excited about each new season, the next big game on the schedule, the hottest name in recruiting and more. But in wanting as such, I must self-reflect and ask myself the following question: “If you were a kid anywhere near my son’s ago who has been watching sports consistently for about 5 years, would you yourself be passionate about UofL Basketball?”
The answer, in short, would be an emphatic NO.
The root cause for such genuine indifference can be found in the fact that UofL has done nothing to earn my son’s attention. What exactly has my son experienced since he became a Louisville Basketball “fan”? Well, he is familiar with the word scandals. He’s akin to Louisville NOT playing in the NCAA Tournament. He’s also well versed in phrases like “the cloud” and “portal misses”. In short, his experience has really sucked.
For me, it’s sad and disheartening. I don’t think it’s too late for him to develop a true understanding of what Louisville Basketball could and should look like. But time is ticking and every hapless season that passes only reinforces the possibility that an entire generation of youth endeavoring to become and stay UofL fans mature into young adults who have a distorted view of the Cards.
In other words, Louisville Basketball is losing an entire generation of potential fans. It’s so
So how does a once proud and nationally relevant Louisville program fix the mess it has created for itself? For starters, it can begin repairing the damage it has inflicted on its historically loyal fan base by not losing to the likes of DePaul and Chattanooga after coming off its worst season in 82 years highlighted by four total wins. But arguably more important than winning games they absolutely should, Louisville HAS to get its house in order.
Less than two years into the Kenny Payne era, the Cards look no closer to sniffing relevance than they did on the back end of Chris Mack’s tenure as head coach. In fact, it looks almost certain at this point that Louisville will be back to searching for its third head coach in less than 7 years (after having only two the previous forty-six) by March.
How the hell did we get here? How did all this “stuff” happen?
The answers to those questions are complex and multi-faceted but troubling and unsettling, nonetheless.
I went back and forth on whether I would even write this piece or not. It wasn’t a fun endeavor, and neither is being a Louisville Basketball fan right now. But I have reluctantly heard too many UofL fans share personal stories over the past several years about a once proud program potentially losing its place with an entire generation of young fans that I could no longer resist.
To those of you who may be like me and have stood by the program’s side for years and continue the fight: We can continue to take our kids or friends to games. We can buy all the gear in the world. We can make it a point to watch all the games from home or hotels. We can use videos and pictures to show how UofL Basketball was built into a household brand. BUT, none of it will ultimately matter until the program we all love gets out of its own way and produces the results on the court we all expect. The most frustrating aspect in all of this is that there is no quick remedy.
With a new year on the horizon, fresh expectations and resolutions naturally come in tow. I have but one: for Louisville Basketball to begin giving me, and my son, more reasons to get excited and hopeful and fewer reasons to be pessimistic and hopeless. That would be a pivotal first step in helping me preserve a fellow UofL fan who is looking for reasons to be all in.
Happy New Year (I hope) – Go Cards!