UK scores hollow victory with new deal

Mitch Barnhart and the University of Kentucky scored a win over the University of Louisville on Wednesday. Make no mistake, though, it was a hollow victory at best.

Mitch Barnhart scored a win over the University of Louisville on Wednesday.

Make no mistake, though, it's a hollow victory at best.

Unable to beat their in-state rivals on the field in recent years, the Kentucky Athletic Director did the only thing he could to score victory over the Cardinals - winning the battle over the future scheduling of the 12 year old series.

In five of the past six seasons, the Wildcats have opened their football season the same way – with losses, mostly lopsided ones, to the Louisville Cardinals. Barnhart unquestionably realized his program simply doesn't have the stuff to challenge the Cardinals on the field and that realization surely prompted him to make a full court press to move the game further back on the UK schedule.

Barnhart's plan is to schedule two easy home wins – he better be careful not to schedule Ohio – to better prepare the Wildcats for their annual game against Louisville.

But that thinking doesn't quite compute.

Though Louisville ran rough-shod over Kentucky in 2004, blanking the Wildcats 28-0, the Cardinals were clearly better by the seasons third week – they beat bowl-bound North Carolina on the road 34-0 – than were the ‘Cats – who lost at home to a Mid American Conference opponent in Commonwealth Stadium.

So what makes Barnhart think moving the game back a few weeks will produce better results for his program against Louisville?

To be honest, I'm not really sure.

This much I can tell you; Louisville AD Tom Jurich – though he clearly prefers opening the season with UK, and for good reasons – can't be overly concerned about when the game is played from a competitive standpoint. His program ranks among the best nationally and figures to remain that way as long as he's the sheriff in town. Regardless when the teams play, U of L figures to have an advantage into the foreseeable future.

In reality, Barnhart's efforts would have been better spent studying Jurich's approach to building a nationally competitive program than wasting time and energy waging a media war to move the game.

Every rational sports fan in the Commonwealth understands why Kentucky so desperately wanted to move this game – and those reasons clearly indicate that the state university has thrown in the towel against the Cardinals and admitted defeat.

The sad part of this new agreement is that a budding state tradition will – at least – temporarily cease. Howard Schnellenberger and C.M. Newton – the game's Founding Father's – understood that this game needed to be played first – for both schools.

What these two native Kentuckians understood so well is very simple. Traditionally a basketball state, those two sporting giants realized that opening the season against one another would generate unprecedented buzz about a sport that generally had been an afterthought.

Guess what? Their plan worked.

The game's popularity is at an all-time high in a traditional basketball state. It's an annual sell-out in both Louisville and Lexington. Sports talk during the summer now centers around the first football game of the season – not basketball as used to be the case. The game – for the past several seasons – has kicked off ESPN's college football coverage, providing important national exposure for both programs. And it's helped improve the play of the game at all levels throughout the state.

How will Wednesday's announcement affect those things?

Who knows? But I'm still trying to figure out why anyone would want to fix something that wasn't broken.

It would be tragic – in my mind – if ESPN elected to drop the game. It also seems probable that the switch – at least in the two years of the new contract the game will be played in Lexington – will dampen off season enthusiasm for the game. Hopefully, neither will turn out to be the case.

One thing I don't see changing, though, is that Louisville will continue to beat Kentucky on a regular basis where it counts – on the field.

If that happens, who knows what Barnhart's next move will be.


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