Despite Petrino Hire, WKU Athletics Seem to Be in a Precarious Position [VIDEO]
Western Kentucky University, my alma mater, has a new head football coach. He is former Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino, famous, recently, for a motorcycle ride with a lovely woman who wasn’t his wife.
He is a very good coach, yes. But the feeling that the hire was a risky one is gnawing at me. That feeling only strengthens when I see headlines like this. Analysts the Internet over are calling the Petrino hire a “risk worth taking.” Others call it the best hire of the off-season. Hey, maybe when you’re in the position Western is in, you have to go there. All us Western fans just knew that Willie Taggart’s winning ways would whisk him away. And, sure enough, he’s off to Tampa to coach the South Florida Bulls.
And, that is life at a school like Western in a town like Bowling Green. If your coach is good, he’s gone. I like the way my good friend, Trace Kirkwood, put it on Facebook:
“Our football program is still wearing its Football Bowl Series diapers or at least a ‘pull up.’ It does not matter if we hire Bobby Petrino or an assistant that has a lot of potential; whoever Western hires will be gone in two or three years. If a coach is successful, the bidders from larger program jet in-and-out of Bowling Green courting their next hire. If he’s terrible, Western has to dump him and do it quickly and suffer the negative press about not giving coaches a chance. There’s too much money at stake and the current business of college football is too fluid to hang onto an unsuccessful coach because he’s a good guy.”
But there’s another issue. Drag out your old Rand-McNally or hit Google Maps and you’ll notice something about Bowling Green.
It’s an outpost.
Not nearly close enough to Louisville or Nashville to claim either as its “media market.” And, friends, in the age of conference realignment, it’s all about the media markets. Western Kentucky is in the Sun Belt Conference, a conference that just bid farewell to two of its long-standing members, Middle Tennessee and Florida Atlantic.
They will now play in Conference USA. And, no Conference USA didn’t go after them because of their reputations in athletics, with all due respect. No, C-USA wanted schools that were in the Nashville and Miami media markets. That’s what’s happening as conferences realign. These league commissioners are going after markets, not schools. Missouri and Texas A&M moved into the SEC because the St. Louis and Dallas media markets will be huge money-makers for the league.
Now, obviously Tuscaloosa is not a huge city, but the Alabama Crimson Tide don’t need one. The world is its media market. If you don’t have a great football program OR reside in a large city, you could be in trouble going forward. See, I feel Kentucky is going to find out, eventually, just how important its basketball tradition is perceived by the fat cats who pull the strings. I’m not saying they’ll be left twisting in the wind, but UK, as we all know, will always be basketball-first. And that status is becoming increasingly perilous in collegiate athletics as football and large markets, more and more, continue to drive the bus.
And, so we have Western Kentucky University with a 1-AA national championship in football in its portfolio, not to mention a rich basketball tradition. And it runs the risk of becoming a footnote.
So, yes, Bobby Petrino was, absolutely, a risk worth taking.