Why Tom Jurich keeps Kentucky on Louisville’s schedule despite the animosity

For whatever reason, Tom Jurich would never seriously consider dropping Kentucky off a University of Louisville schedule in any sport. Never under his watch.

Contrary to some of us who would rather do without all the animosity, Jurich apparently considers UK as indispensable to the lineup of opponents. Probably because the games between the teams are always among the best attended, attract maximum media exposure, and are fiercely contested.

Many Louisville fans can still remember the days when Kentucky refused to play UofL in the major sports. As long as the Wildcats didn’t have to play Louisville, they could claim they were far superior and there was no way to challenge that notion. UK was in the mighty SEC and UofL was either an independent or making its way in and out of a half dozen secondary conferences. 

UofL actually needed UK on the schedule in those days, seeking validity, wanting to earn the respect of the Lexington rival. When the teams finally did begin playing each other in basketball and football, and Louisville began to win many of those games, it soon became apparent that gaining the respect of UK fans was not possible.

The basketball series, of course, is still considered the most heated in the rivalry. This despite the fact that UK has won eight of the last nine games, including four straight over the Cardinals. John Calipari and his NBA prep factory owning Rick Pitino over the past decade.  Games between UofL and UK women are equally contentious, with Louisville’s Jeff Walz finally breaking a six-year losing streak to Matthew Mitchell this season.

No less intense in football, in which UofL has won five of the last six games. Wildcat fans are still reveling in their team’s 41-38 upset of 11th-ranked Louisville in the final regular season game. That win more important to Kentucky than making a bowl game for the first time in six years.

The baseball stadiums in both Louisville and Lexington are always packed for the UofL-UK games, always tightly contested, integral to the success of both teams. Louisville has owned the series in recent years, winning the last six games between the two teams.

UK fans will never acknowledge that UofL is anywhere close to being on the same level in terms of prestige or competitiveness — no matter how many times UofL defeats them or how many national championships or final fours the Cardinals claim. For that matter, neither will UofL ever give UK fans the respect they think they deserve. 

Kentucky fans consider Louisville as a crime-infested urban area. Many of them have never visited the state’s largest and most prosperous city. A large segment of Louisville fans, on the other hand, consider Kentucky a rural and backward state, ranked near the bottom in many national categories, and a state that relies heavily on Louisville tax dollars to stay afloat.

For these and many other reasons, the rivalry is among the most bitter rivalries in college sports. Those who describe it as a friendly rivalry are, as one friend described them, “art majors,” completely out of touch with the real world.

The rivalry is counterproductive in many ways, often dividing families, friendships, business relationships, and communities. Not good for the state either, creating very real barriers to any real significant cooperation between the state’s two largest educational institutions.

Despite all these negative factors, the rivalry will go on, making life miserable for fans of the losing school, creating even more levels of resentment and animosity. UK and UofL fans live to hate each other.

Tom Jurich knows that will probably never change. Kentucky fans consider Louisville a threat, and that equals respect, whether they ever admit it or not. That’s why UK is staying on the schedule.

The hits keep coming but milestones never stop at University of Louisville

The University of Louisville is under attack on so many fronts that some of us are becoming hardened to the accusations, skeptical of the sources. Some unbelievable accusations have surfaced, and they never seem to go away. 

Any more bad news out there? Cough it up and clear the air. Only three more weeks before 2016 becomes history. What a crappy year in so many ways.

— Jim Ramsey, the former UofL President, accused of administrative irregularities in a state audit of the UofL Foundation. That would be the same Jim Ramsey who is credited for the unprecedented growth of the University over the past decade. 

— The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools placing UofL’s accreditation on probation for a year for actions taken by Governor Bevin in attempting to replace the current members of the Board of Trustees. Why the organization would threaten the school’s accreditation for any reason other than academic reasons defies any logic. No surprise, however, given the ideology of members governing the Southern Association.

— Governor Bevin, ignoring the Southern Association’s action, indicating that he will attempt to change state law during the 2017 legislation session to justify his action. A dangerous precedent if he is successful, allowing future Governors to replace board members at will, possibly putting the University’s very existence at risk in a state where little love is lost on UofL.

Few people in America more noble or better positioned than sportswriters to address sins and shortcomings.

— The never-ending probe of the UofL basketball program following revelations that former player and assistant coach had been sponsoring stripper parties and sexual favors for players. Once a program is accused, the NCAA’s review process drags on forever, with no consistency in how cases are handled and punishments are administered.

— The latest embarrassment, the admission of a Wake Forest radio football analyst that he had provided game plan information to opposing teams, including UofL. Louisville, unfortunately, was where information was uncovered exposing the individual, exposing UofL to criticism from the talking heads and saintly sports columnists like Tim Sullivan.

The lowest of low points, being lectured by the scribes. Few people in America more noble or better positioned than sportswriters to address sins and shortcomings. Who’s to question their qualifications? A terrible profession when success is often defined by how many people hate you.

Quite a tumble from the glory years, particular from the Year of the Cardinal in 2013 when the University of Louisville could do no wrong. Distant memories for now.

The Lamar Jackson success story, the first UofL football player to ever win the Heisman Award, providing a brief reprieve from the torrent of bad news. But also serving as a reminder that many great things will continue to happen at UofL.

Overcoming hard times is part of being an advocate for the University of Louisville. Fans and supporters of UofL have had to weather more than their share of adversity over the decades.

They’ve grown accustomed to being targeted by neighboring fans, by a local newspaper that claims to be a state newspaper at the expense of the local school, and by the growing pains that occur when a school is ambitious. Predictably the University of Louisville always gets stronger and better, achieving unprecedented milestones while eyeing even more challenging goals.

Always been that way. It will never change. 

Johnny U takes a sabbatical, moves to secure location

Johnny U has left his perch at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.

Johnny Unitas no longer stands guard over the North end zone at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. In his absence is a stub of the concrete statue honoring the former University of Louisville great.

The statue has been moved and won’t be back until the expansion is complete in 2018.

That was the word from JCPS Stadium Manager Michael Ortman who is putting a padlock on Gate 9 a couple of minutes after the observer leaves the stadium on Tuesday morning.

“Where’s Johnny U?” the observer asks.

“I can’t say,” says Ortman. “The statue has been moved to another location where it will be safe and secure.”

“What about the bricks with the donors’ names on them?”

Stadium Manager Michael Ortman.

“They have been palletized,” replies Ortman. “and they are in safekeeping as well.”

“You sure you can’t tell us where Johnny U is being stored?”

“No way,” says Ortman, wondering who the character is asking all the questions. “The statue is in a safe location and I’m not saying anything about the whereabouts.”

As Vice President Tom Jurich promised, the stadium expansion began two days after the final game of the 2016 season. Work is clearly visible in both the north end zone and north of the Howard Schnellenberger football complex. Lots of preparation work for new utilities is under way in both areas. 

The shell of the new end zone structure is expected to be in place during the 2017 football season, along with framework of construction of the new football training facility. 

As for when and where Johnny U will be stationed when he returns , Ortman is equally mum.

“We’ll see,” he says.

Super Heisman Man: Louisville’s Lamar Jackson

Hey, Lamar Jackson.

There. Did it. Broke out of the gate early, made America take notice, put University of Louisville football squarely in the national spotlight. Nailed down honor after coveted honor, separated yourself as America’s  best college football player in 2016.

No doubt, not even close.

Play after play, on the ground, through the air, touchdown after touchdown, week after week. Setting new standards for athleticism, so often, so consistently. Considered his norm notching three, four or five touchdowns game after game.

Lamar Jackson winner of the Heisman Trophy winner for the 2016 college football season.  Racking up 3,390 passing yards, 1,538 rushing yards, with an astonishing 4,928 yards and 51 touchdowns. Leading UofL to a 9-3 won-lost record.

Louisville has had many great football players. Among them Johnny Unitas, Lenny Lyles, Deion Branch, Brian Brohm, Elvis Dumervil, Howard Stevens, Walter Peacock … So many names on the flight deck at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.

But only one of them ever considered a serious contender for football’s most prestigious award — the Heisman trophy destined to stand alongside the Walter Camp and Maxwell Player of the Year awards on the Jackson family trophy wall.

Lamar Jackson bringing unprecedented attention to University of Louisville football, rewarding the faithful for long-standing loyalty. One of the most outstanding performances in the history of any sport.

Lamar Jackson himself, his fans, his detractors, his teammates, the opposition — everyone knowing he could have done much better. God willing, absorbing the lessons, getting better, setting even higher standards next year.

Hopefully blowing the doors off the hinges next season, having only just begun.

Photos courtesy of Cindy Rice Shelton.

Big guys get their turn for Louisville basketball

UofL’s Jaylen Johnson and Mangok Mathiang create a barricade for Mike Rodriguez of Southern Illinois (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

The big guys were having their way for the University of Louisville basketball team on Wednesday, dominating offensively for a change, relegating the guards to support roles in UofL’s 74-51 win over Southern Illinois University.

Matz Stockman tells SIU’s Armon Fletcher to get that ball out of here (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Playing in some rarified air at the KFC Yum! Center, with Magok Mathiang actually scoring UofL’s first seven points while SIU was still searching for its first basket. Probably the best overall performance of his career, Mathiang leading his team in scoring with 15 points for the night.

Then there were Deng Adel and Jaylen Johnson, adding 12 and nine points, 12 and 10 rebounds, respectively. Matz Stockman getting in on the act with seven points, a couple of rebounds, a block and a steal.

The Louisville guards having an off night, according to Coach Rick Pitino, because they weren’t moving the ball, not making passes. “It was obvious to me that they thought they had the game under control and were looking for shots,” he said. 

Guards Donovan Mitchell, Quentin Snider, Tony Hicks, David Levitch and Ryan McMahon contributing 20 points collectively. “The points will come when they enjoy passing as much as they enjoy taking shots,” added Pitino.