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Will Rupp renovation split Kentucky’s Big Blue Nation?

Jul 6, 2013, 10:34 PM EDT

Ashley Judd AP

You’ve seen it a hundred times on TV: Ashley Judd sitting smack in the middle of a sea of blue, mixing with the rest of Big Blue Nation as they watch their favorite team play in Rupp Arena. She’s not the only one. Every luminary who’s ever come to bask in the glow of John Calipari’s maximum cool factor has been right out there with the hoi polloi as well.

Rupp has no artificial divisions when it comes to fan seating. You’re either with BBN, or you’re not.

That could all change with the proposed renovation of the Lexington arena. According to the Lexington Herald-Leader, the University of Kentucky sent out surveys last week, asking if fans would be interested in buying luxury boxes and exclusive club memberships as part of the fundraising effort that will precede any renovation. The notion of moneyed Wildcats fans eating gourmet food in the skyboxes has at least one fan feeling left out.

[Jeanette] Hislope, a friendly, out-going woman who works in customer service, worries about what might be lost in a renovated — and stratified — Rupp Arena.

“I always bleed blue,” she said before adding, “I think this will make me opt out of the Big Blue Nation if they mess with Rupp Arena.”

Opt out of BBN? Is that even possible?

“Very few things are deal-breakers,” Hislope said. “That’s one. I would never say a word against the Big Blue Nation. But I’d be done. That will ruin what I consider the heart and soul of Rupp Arena.”

The truth is, this kind of thing happens. A few years back, Kansas fans went through a painful re-allocation of seating wealth, when a points system — heavily based on the applicant’s donor profile — was put into place for season-ticket holders. Long-time fans who had held courtside tickets for decades were moved to make room for people who had bigger wallets to sit on. The College World Series left populist Rosenblatt Stadium and moved into a skybox-laden new park recently, as well.

A few fans might have given up when they realized their love wasn’t worth as much as cold, hard cash, but fan fervor runs bone-deep at a place like Kentucky. In case a quick look around the realignment-ravaged landscape of college sports hasn’t made this absolutely clear: money talks.

Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor. He tweets @stfhoops.

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