Monday, October 26, 2009

Nation's iconic college basketball program may become latest instrument of coal-industry PR

We've reported several times in recent months about the increase in coal-industry public relations and lobbying efforts; now coal interests may have gained their most important foothold in the nation's No. 3 coal-producing state: University of Kentucky basketball. The UK Board of Trustees will consider a request Tuesday to accept a $7 million donation for a new men's basketball team dormitory from a group of UK boosters referring to themselves as the Difference Makers. The donation comes with one caveat: The name of the dorm should include the word "coal," Andy Mead of the Lexington Herald-Leader reports.

The Difference Makers, led by Alliance Coal president and UK basketball practice facility namesake Joe Craft, say their donation will not be fulfilled unless it's used to replace the team's current home, Joe B. Hall Wildcat Lodge. A UK spokesman says that as with all large donations, an agreement would allow the donor to stipulate the new building's name. The current lodge, named for UK's head coach from 1972 to 1985, opened in 1978. (Read more)

UK students were invited to participate in a student-only basketball practice, sponsored by Craft and Friends of Coal, Friday. As they entered, students were provided a free T-shirt displaying the Wildcat mascot, above, wearing mining gear on the front and a message on the back reading: "Coal, Cats, Calipari Power Kentucky." UK head coach John Calipari, left, began the event with a speech explaining the importance of coal in Kentucky, adding he was trying to teach his team the spirit he witnessed among underground miners during a recent visit to a mine. "They are a brotherhood," Calipari wrote on his Web site. "And that's what I want our team to become." (Photo of Calipari by Shannon Lewis)

The lodge naming rights and coal-sponsored practice have stirred up the coal debate on campus, Katie Perkowski reports for the Kentucky Kernel, UK's independent student newspaper. “My opinion is pretty much that coal has been a foundation of Kentucky’s economy for many decades, and it’s going to be the foundation for many decades to come,” Stephen Gardner, chairman of the UK Mining and Energy Foundation, told Perkowski. Martin Mudd, a graduate student and member of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, disagreed: "My personal opinion is that the University of Kentucky has to choose whether it’s going to be a friend of big coal or a friend of Kentucky and Kentuckians. With this announcement, it’s clear what the administration feels about that, but I don’t think that that view represents everybody on this campus." (Read more)

The Kernel also devoted its Monday opinions section to the topic with an editorial cartoon, right, by William Kiluba showing the lodge atop a strip mine, and editorial saying "Wildcat Lodge represents students, not special interests," a Gardner piece headlined "Coal remains important to Kentucky, nation" and a guest columnist saying "UK fails campus with allegiance to big business."

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