U of L-UK rivalry clouded by uncertainty

In the final year of a six-year pact between the University's of Louisville and Kentucky to play football each year, the focus Thursday afternoon at the annual Governor's Cup Kickoff Luncheon at the Cardinal Club wasn't on next month's season-opener between the two programs. Instead, the focus was squarely on the game's future.

In the final year of a six-year pact between the University's of Louisville and Kentucky to play football each year, the focus Thursday afternoon at the annual Governor's Cup Kickoff Luncheon at the Cardinal Club wasn't on next month's season-opener between the two programs. Instead, the focus was squarely on the game's future.

It's become crystal clear UK officials want to make some changes. It's equally clear U of L officials aren't interested in changing the formula that has made the game wildly successful since its inception in 1994.

Therein lies the problem.

UK Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart still wouldn't commit Thursday to continuing to play the game as the season-opener for both schools. In fact, Barnhart said he would prefer to be able to schedule the game whenever he wants – at least when the game is played in Lexington.

"We haven't worked out our scheduling yet, but it is a good game for the Commonwealth," admitted Barnhart. "We'll play the game. We just haven't worked out the details yet and nothing is going to be decided today."

On the other side, U of L AD Tom Jurich doesn't have any interest in seeing the game moved from it's traditional Labor Day weekend kickoff.

"If it's up to us, it'll be the first game," Jurich said. "And if it's up to them they'd probably move it. But they [UK official] still haven't told me that they want to [move that game]."

U of L coach Bobby Petrino echoed Jurich's sentiments, adding that the game has several intangible benefits.

"I love to play it as the opener," Petrino said. "It's good for high school football throughout the state, it's good for the state and it's great for both universities. Anything can happen in an opening game, and that's what makes the game so exciting."

Kentucky coach Rich Brooks also sounded interested in continuing the rivalry – just not as his team's season-opener every year.

"We're interested in continuing to play this game," Brooks said. "I think it's a great series, and I'm sure the details of when it's going to be played will be looked at in the future.

Apparently, one of the biggest obstacles to agreement has been a lack of communication between the two sides over the issue. Both Jurich and Barnhart confirmed the two sides haven't discussed the matter. Jurich, though, didn't seem overly concerned about the lines of communication between the parties.


Barnhart wants the flexibility to
push U of L - UK game back
on the Wildcats schedule.

"We'll talk – I'll talk to him [Barnhart] today," Jurich said. "It's not a big issue. I still haven't been told it's going to be moved. We've got [our schedule] blocked out like it's going to be the first game."

As much as Jurich tried to downplay the issue – this clearly is the biggest issue surrounding the annual contest that the Cardinals have won five of the last six years.

One thing that seems certain at this point is that the series will continue, though UK will likely push hard for scheduling flexibility.

"I don't think the fans at both schools would let that happen," Jurich said when asked if there was any way the game wouldn't be renewed. "I think it's too important a game, too important an event."

Even if the two schools can't agree to a renewal of the series – which seems highly unlikely – the Kentucky General Assembly might step in and ensure the rivalry's continuation. Last month, Representative Denver Butler, D-Louisville, pre-filed a bill in the House that would make it a state law that the game continue as the season opener for both schools.

"This game will be played," said Commerce Secretary Jim Host, who stood in for Governor Ernie Fletcher Thursday afternoon in Simpsonville.

Host, however, failed to endorse Butler's bill, stating that the legislature and executive branch shouldn't do anything to coerce the team's to play, especially on a specific date.

Jurich, noting that he didn't put much stock into Butler's pre-filed legislative solution either, said he didn't expect much to change once an agreement is reached.

"I don't think much will change," Jurich said. "I think it's too valuable a thing for the state not to play this game. It's much bigger than a football game as you can see by all the events that surround it. We all understand we're going to play the game, that's not an issue. We're going to play the game wherever it fits."

"This is a game that has elevated both schools," Jurich added. "There's so much interest in the game, and I think it's so important to keep that interest going. You can see the dividends since the first game in the high school, the middle schools and the Pop Warner leagues. There's so much interest in football from that last basket made in March until the kickoff in September."

With so much uncertainty surrounding the game's future, this much is certain; U of L wants to see the game continue, preferably unaltered from it's current format.

"I'd like it to continue forever, and I mean that sincerely," Jurich said.

Unfortunately for football fans throughout the Commonwealth, it doesn't appear Mitch Barnhart feels the same.

"I want to make sure that what we do is in the best interests of the University of Kentucky football program," said Barnhart. Tom has done a great job with the University of Louisville positioning things that are good for his program. I want the same opportunity to make sure that we have the ability to do things that are good for the University of Kentucky."

"It might be the first game and it might be something that we need to look at a little bit differently," he added.


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