WKU spreading red, coping with UK blue

Big Red takes silly string to the mouth from the Kentucky’s mascot, the Wildcat, to entertain those close to the sideline at the WKU-UK game on Sept. 27, 2008. The Toppers lost in the team’s only meeting 41-3.

Jonathan Lintner

If it wears blue and talks about blue and cheers for blue, chances are WKU officials won’t embrace it.

But that doesn’t mean they’re turning away UK fans, either.

“They’re not welcome here because we’re trying to build a university and a brand,” President Gary Ransdell said. “On the other hand, they’re here, and they’re good students — presumably — and they’re not there. They made the decision to come here.”

WKU’s campus figured to see more blue this week than most. The Toppers head to Lexington on Saturday to meet the Wildcats in the schools’ second-ever meeting on the gridiron.

Head Coach Willie Taggart kicked off the game week without mincing words. He said the UK blue isn’t going anywhere — at least not until WKU makes something of its transition to the Football Bowl Subdivision.

“It’s going to take winning and winning consistently and beating UK to get some of those people to change their blue to red,” Taggart said. “If they’re wearing blue on this campus right now, you know it’s going to be hard because that’s totally disrespectful to this university.”

Then there are those who wear both red and blue. Athletics Director Ross Bjork is no stranger to mixed allegiances. A former UCLA employee, Bjork said many in Los Angeles buy both season tickets to UCLA basketball and Southern California football.

Geographically speaking, the case of WKU and UCLA is similar.

“It’s going to happen any time you’re in a melting pot like this where you have people who are from the region and they’ve grown up a Kentucky fan all their life or their first basketball game was a Louisville game,” Bjork said.

Bjork said the WKU brass isn’t necessarily trying to rid the campus of blue. Instead officials are trying to “spread the red.”

A Toppers on Tour campaign last summer reached out into the state to drum up alumni support for WKU athletics, and one of Bjork’s first moves this fall was to start Red and White Spirit Days.

But Taggart said the best way for WKU to increase its reach — and to prove it’s on both UK and U of L’s level — is to score a win on Saturday.

“We’ve just got to come out and be on our A game,” Taggart said. “If we can do that, we’ll make some noise.”

Ransdell said he’ll eventually expect five wins, then seven, then repeat appearances to bowl games from Taggart and company.

A successful football program, Bjork said, would be good for all of Bowling Green.

“The thing that we have to sell here is that this is really about the community and making the community better,” Bjork said. “So you may have gotten your degree from UK or U of L, but you live here. And if we’re successful as an athletic department — as a university — that’s only going to help their livelihood, their business, and keep them entertained with high-level college athletics.”

Bjork added that support will eventually get to where it’s not shared with the UKs and U of Ls of the world.

But Ransdell reiterated that not much can be expected until the football program’s losing streak becomes a memory.

“Athletics fans are consumers,” Ransdell said. “They’re going to go where the energy and the success and the identity and ego is. We’ve got to earn it. And 0-21 is not how you earn it.”