August 11, 2005

Full of sound and fury...signifying nothing.

Year in and year out, athletic directors around the country scramble to fill holes in their football schedules. Small schools go fishing for large, BCS daddies to help secure new equipment or at least cover the expenses for the year. Large schools usually schedule easy wins in front of the home crowd. Basically, they bring the little guy into the Colosseum to be slaughtered.

These meetings are clandestine, usually settled in back room dealings and announced to awaiting fans through a press release by the school's sports information department. But there comes a time when two schools on somewhat equal footing want to get together and the posturing begins. Two kids in the sandbox begin to fight over the proverbial "ball".

Mitch Barnhart is UK's athletic director. Barnhart has come under considerable fire for his hiring of Rich Brooks to direct the UK football team coming off harsh NCAA penalties for cheating under coach Hal Mumme, now at New Mexico State. To some, Barnhart is an outsider to the program unlike the wildly popular predecessor, C.M. Newton.

Looking to improve UK's fortunes, Barnhart has been scheduling easier games for the Wildcats in order to foster bowl hopes and build a program. The Wildcats recently added games with Akron and Temple to the slate after the NCAA proposed legislation permanently allowing 12 games for division I-A football.

Tom Jurich is the UofL athletic director. Jurich comes to the Cardinals via Colorado State. Jurich has played the role of the underdog in his whole professional life, and has seemingly made all the right moves at Louisville, especially getting Rick Pitino to the Derby City after his stint with the Boston Celtics. Pitino's signing, obviously formerly in the college ranks with Kentucky, elevated the Louisville-Kentucky rivalry to new hatred.

At stake in the football battle is when to play the game. UK and UofL have had history only since 1994. Then, coaches Howard Schnellenberger and Bill Curry wanted to have a game that would excite the state about football, instead of just passing the time until the hardwood showdown. The Governors Cup was born and UK hosted the first four games due to Louisville not having a top-flight facility. The Cardinals promptly had Papa John's Cardinal Stadium built and its been a home-and-home since. The game has always been the first game of the year for the schools minus Louisville signing a 2001 contest against New Mexico State, drawing the ire of Wildcat fans everywhere.

The ugliness recently reared its head when UK said they wanted to continue the series, however, they wanted to move the game back to a later date. U of L said they wanted the game to remain the kickoff of the season. Begin the standoff.

UK is the larger school. There is no doubt that UK controls the fan base of the Commonwealth and mainly even in the city of Louisville. In a negotiation it is perceived that UK wields the hammer, giving Louisville their only sellout game in an otherwise weakened Conference USA schedule that Louisville played.

Jurich scored a coup in 2004, getting the Cardinals moved to the Big East starting the 2005 season, giving the Cardinals an inside track to a BCS bid. The move also puts the Big East as one of the top conferences in basketball.

To an outsider, Louisville looks like the little brother starting to better their older sibling. Now UK, the older brother, wants nothing to do with the Cardinals. They want to take their ball and go home.

In fairness, the Kentucky Wildcats and Louisville Cardinals do not have a lot of football history period. UK made their bones when most of us weren't a glimmer in our daddy's eye under Paul Bryant in the late 40's and early 50's. Louisville has been the "Johnny come lately" of college football, first making a splash in 1991, playing in the Fiesta Bowl after several teams pulled out due to the Arizona's legislature's decision to not honor the Martin Luther King holiday as an official holiday.

Now the Cardinals have a high-flying offense under head coach Bobby Petrino. Petrino is a villain in heroes clothing; the ultimate example of that winning can cure all ills. It was just two years ago that Auburn officals landed their plane just across the river from Louisville to lure the coach away from UofL to the "loveliest village on the plains". All this done, mind you, without current coach, Tommy Tuberville, knowing about it. Lo and behold, the deal falls through, the press gets wind of the deal, and Tuberville proceeds to take the Tigers to a 13-0 record last year. (I am sure T squared wielded a hammer in his contract renegotiation.)

The only card that Louisville has to play when negotiating a deal is to the press. Jurich ponied up and portrayed the big brother Cats just as that, a bully used to getting their way and now wanting to dictate matters off the field since they were no longer doing so on the field.

The tale goes from posturing to ridiculous when State Representative Denver Miller, D-Louisville actually proposed state legislature requiring the schools to meet first. The sad part is that politics were being involved for the second time in the Louisville-Kentucky saga. The basketball teams were made to play in the 1983-84 season after then-Governor John Y. Brown applied his political pressure to the issue. The Cats and Cards hadn't met in over 70 years outside of a tournament appearance earlier that spring.

The possible football series suffered due to the basketball not being played. The conventional wisdom held at the time was that if they could play in football, why not basketball. So the two schools, only 80 miles apart, never met.

Other issues existed. Who truly held the power? Why did UK suddenly want to dictate matters? Was their any complaining in 1998 after UK won 68-34 at Louisville with Tim Couch torching PJCS for five touchdowns? Why was UofL so adamant that the game be first when they signed NMSU in 2001?

These could all be explained ad naseum, however, the two schools struck a deal the other day and the series will continue. Louisville will host in 2006 and 2008 as the first game of the year, and when UK gets the home date in 2007 and 2009, the game will be later, around the middle of September after a few cupcakes.

Months of wrangling and they essentially decided that who holds the home game dictates home rules.

Just another chapter added to the rivalry for fans to argue. Just remember kids, run along and play nice...

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