Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Pot Committed

When good, competent people make a bad decision, how they deal with it after the fact reveals more about them than the decision itself. Economists are guided by the principle of sunk costs; in other words, an investment decision must be made based on its merits today, not by how much you’ve already spent or lost. That money is gone and should not factor into your decision.

Good poker players know this as well, and bet according to whether or not it’s smart to do so AT THAT TIME. The prior series of bets is irrelevant. The irrational gambler sees the amount of chips that he has contributed to the pot and stays in even when he knows that he is beaten. He is “pot committed”.

So is Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart with regard to his football program.

Three years ago, coach Guy Morriss led the Wildcats to a 7-5 season and wanted a pay raise for his efforts. The prior coach had run afoul of the NCAA and sanctions were on the way. Kentucky wasn’t even that attractive a place to coach anyway, having spent decades wallowing in mediocrity following the departure of Bear Bryant. Baylor was on the phone making overtures.

Barnhart threw up no roadblocks. Morriss went to Baylor, and the Kentucky football coaching search began. Some of football’s biggest names were rumored to have been in the hunt, including Steve Spurrier, Bill Parcells, Norm Chow, and even the ghost of the Bear himself. Whom did Barnhart select to lead Kentucky’s football program?

Rich Brooks. I hadn’t heard of him either. Nobody was impressed.

It turns out that Brooks was pretty far down the list. Already in retirement, Brooks had stints with both the University of Oregon and the NFL’s Rams. His record was under .500 at both stops. If Barnhart was looking to make a splash with this coaching hire, he had failed miserably.

Brooks’ record at Kentucky is a woeful 8-23 eight games into his third season. He has sharply divided the loyal Wildcat fan base with his negative attitude and excuse making. The effects of probation have eaten into his available talent, but that didn’t account for the pathetic effort being shown on the field. Injuries have taken their toll, but those affect every team.

Despite overwhelming evidence that the original hire was a mistake, Mitch Barnhart remains “pot committed”, having assured Brooks yesterday that he would be back for his fourth season. Wow. If only I could keep my job after failing 75% of the time.

Why does this admitted Vanderbilt fan even care that the AD for another SEC also-ran bumbled this decision not once, but twice? I’ll tell you: Kentucky fans deserve better. They show up en masse every Saturday to root on the Cats no matter how bad they are. Their stadium seats 70,000 and it always looks full. I was at last year’s game versus Vanderbilt, where nearly 60,000 people came out to see a 1-8 Kentucky squad take on a 2-7 Commodore crew. It was brutal football, but they were there nonetheless.

I still believe that UK fans are loyal to a fault. Most would rather stop attending the games and supporting the football program with their money until things turn around. Instead, they hang on, fearful of being labeled a traitor by their fellow fans. It’s amusing and depressing at the same time.

Somehow, in the last several weeks, the tide has turned. The prevailing opinion in the bluegrass seems to be that Brooks deserves more time, and that probation and injuries are to blame, not Brooks. The players like him, and the recruits want to play for him, or so we’re told.

Yesterday, Mitch Barnhart made it official that Brooks would be back for his fourth season in 2006. He has hitched his own wagon to an aging, ornery coach who has yet to leave any coaching stop with a winning record. The program probably needed more than three years to turn around anyway. Since it wasn’t Brooks’ fault that his predecessors lied and cheated, he should get more time, no matter how awful his results thus far may seem.

In other words, Barnhart is pot committed. For the Big Blue faithful, I hope he isn’t burned on the river.

Vandy Football Notes
Next Saturday’s game at Tennessee will be carried by JP, marking the eight of eleven Vandy games this season to be televised. This is nothing short of remarkable. The biggest factor influencing the outpouring of scorn around the country for SEC officiating after the Florida game is that it was on television for all to see.

I would not want to be Kentucky this week. First of all, they’re terrible. More importantly, they are walking into Nashville one week after Vandy got jobbed in the Swamp. Vandy is still playing for a bowl game. It’s Senior Day, so it’s Jay Cutler’s last home game. Last time I checked, Vandy is a two touchdown favorite and I think that they are going to cover.

Tonight’s Matchup
West Virginia at Cincinnati. The Mountaineers venture to the land of running water and modern dentistry to take on a Bearcat squad that doesn’t capture anyone’s fancy, much less this observer. West Virginia wins this one going away by pounding the ball on the ground.

BCS Bowl Presidents are openly praying for West Virginia to win out and represent the Big East in the BCS. Since Morgantown is a depressing place to be, Mountaineer fans travel to bowl games like crazy, which is all that bowls really care about anymore. I mean, if your Big East champ is South Florida, your bowl revenue and TV ratings are in the crapper.

Final Word
If you’re looking for a pair of tickets to the Kentucky-Vandy men’s basketball game in Nashville on February 11, look no further:

This game sells out every year. Make someone special happy for Christmas!


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