Fear and loafing at the SEC tourney

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By John Foster

Best quote from a 7-year-old towel boy: With Vanderbilt in a tight game with Arkansas, Forward Ross Neltner came to the line for free throws. I could hear the towel boy whisper underneath his breath.“Come on, make this, Neltner. I got money on this game.”

Biggest natural disaster: Everyone says it sounds like a freight train. After living in La Grange, I should know.As Mississippi State battled Alabama in overtime Friday, a huge clap of thunder preceded the telltale sound of a tornado. Everyone imagines they would react well in the case of a tornado. Nope. Let me tell you what people do when a tornado hits. The game stops mid-dribble and everyone just looks up with a confused look on their face. The metal ceiling of the Georgia Dome rippled like waves before two holes ripped open in the side of the building, sending chunks of insulation flying in. Fortunately no one was hurt, just freaked out.

Weirdest sight (other than seeing the roof of the Georgia Dome ripple like waves or Perry Stevenson leap up and swat a foul shot into the stands): Seeing dozens of members of pep bands, dance squads and cheerleaders try to lead cheers with barely anyone there to do the cheering. It was weird for such a big tournament to have the atmosphere of a mid-season, mid-week high school game.

Biggest injustice: With gaping holes in the sides of the Georgia Dome and its infinite seating capacity, the tournament was moved to the 9,000 seat on-campus basketball court of Georgia Tech — probably a good call.Not a good call — the tournament committee decided to allow only boosters, bands, dance squads, family members and media to see the game. With 20,000 fans turned away, 8,000 seats were left empty. There was a bigger crowd at the Eighth Region high school tournament. Although boosters do make the basketball program possible and profitable, let’s not forget that the team playing represents the UNIVERSITY of Kentucky. Do boosters really deserve to see the game when students do not? I realize they couldn’t fit everyone in the stadium and didn’t want the campus of Georgia Tech trampled under a sea of blue sweatshirts only to turn away most of them, but they could have at least allowed students to see the game instead of playing in a near-empty arena. It was an unfortunate reality that thousands of Kentucky fans who made the seven hour drive, filled the city of Atlanta with C-A-T-S cheers and spent hundreds of dollars apiece on tickets alone didn’t even get to see their team LOSE. There was no way to accommodate all of them, but still those who actually pay tuition to the school should have been allowed in. SEC sports officials are currently working on a ticket refund process. Those who purchased tickets should check www.secsports.com for updates. In my opinion, there is no way to refund their hotel rooms or fuel, but those fans deserve a pretty hefty refund. And let’s face it, Kentucky fans make the SEC tournament. Looking into the stands during Vandy/Arkansas, half the stands were blue. It should be clear to SEC officials they need to do something to stay in the good graces of those fans if they want to have a profitable tournament next year.

Best story: Although it pains me to say this after they beat my Cats, but Georgia — what an incredible story. Who could imagine the Dawgs, which came into the tournament with a losing record, would win three games in 27 hours, including one in overtime? That’s not only unprecedented, but unimaginable.

E-mail us about this column at: jfoster@oldhamera.com.The views expressed in this column may not necessarily represent the views of The Oldham Era.