LEMOND: UK-UL game good for all concerned

Louisville head football coach Bobby Petrino wants to keep the game right where it is as the season opener for both schools saying, "It's good for the state of Kentucky football. It's good for the high schools."

There are a couple of things that sports fans in Kentucky can count on every year.

One, the Kentucky Derby is run on the first Saturday in May. No exceptions.

Two, a high school basketball team will make a "cinderella run" towards the Sweet 16 state basketball tournament at Rupp Arena.

Three, the next door Cincinnati Reds will be out of the playoff picture by June.

And four, the Kentucky Wildcats will open their college football season against their arch-rival, Louisville.

Now, however, that heated season opener between the Cats and the Cards is in jeopardy of being moved, and it's creating a lot of controversy. This is the last year of the contract for the Kentucky / Louisville game, and UK head football coach Rich Brooks has been open about his desire to "not" play the game as his team's season opener. Brooks wants to instead follow the lead of other Southeastern Conference schools and other big rivalries by playing the game later in the year.

Louisville head football coach Bobby Petrino wants to keep the game right where it is as the season opener for both schools saying, "It's good for the state of Kentucky football. It's good for the high schools."

UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart and U of L athletic director Tom Jurich both said in June that the negotiations for a new contract haven't begun. Jurich said, "I really don't know what they're looking for, to be honest with you. I guess Mitch and I will have a chance to sit down, and the coaches, but I would hope that we can continue to play it on the first game because of the pageantry that goes with it. I think everybody is talking about football, and it's good. It's a 'win / win' for everybody."

Louisville leads the recent series with UK since it's renewal in 1994, 7-4, which includes winning 5 of the last 6 matchups. Only one time has the game not been the season opener for Louisville, and that was in 2001.

Lately, the game has been played on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend and carried live by ESPN, meaning it is the 'only' college football game being played at that time, on that day and anyone who likes football across the country is tuning it to watch the Cats and the Cards.

Petrino said, "Anytime you are on national television on Sunday, all the recruits are watching the game, it has to be good for both schools."

"We want to play the game," Jurich said. "To me, it makes all kinds of sense. I think we're getting national publicity by playing it in the opener. We've got, pretty much, it's turned into a 'locked-in' date. I'm not saying that's going to be etched in stone forever, but that Sunday of Labor Day is kind of our little niche, and I think it's important."

He added, "I've heard all the talk, and the different reasoning, and I want what's best for everybody. But I can honestly tell you, if it's good enough for Florida, Florida State, and Miami, it certainly should be good enough for us too."

Petrino hasn't lost to Kentucky winning 40-24 in 2003 and 28-0 last year. He was also part of the historic Alabama / Auburn series while an assistant with Auburn. He said, "I think in the state of Kentucky, it has generated so much interest, and so much excitement for the sport of football. We play a lot of basketball around here in the month of November, and people start turning their attention sometimes towards that. I would like to see it kept as the opener."

There has been some thought that when the game is in Louisville, the Cards can schedule the game whenever they want, like as the season opener, and when the game is in Lexington, the Cats could schedule the game whenever they want, like later in the season.

"I want to play it as the first game," Jurich said. "I think it makes a lot of sense. To me, very few times in our business do you get to put something together, or be a part of something that is so successful on both ends. I mean, I think the fans love it. The teams love it. It's a great opener. It creates so much excitement. I would hate to see it go away."

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