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.

Pressure cooker week for John Calipari

John Calipari is under extreme pressure to win the Sweet 16 game between Louisville and Kentucky. Lose and his whole approach is in question. Win and he’s infallible, as far as UK fans are concerned.

Calipari has been under attack from UK fans for weeks as the losses added up for UK. Analysts, writers and fans picking his recruiting and coaching styles apart. The UK ship appeared to headed for the rocks a couple of weeks ago, the losses piling up with 10 or more losses the past two seasons and a first round loss in the NIT last year.  The Cats were coming up empty, looking for escape hatches,

Fortunately for any UK coach, there’s always the Southeastern Conference tournament at the end. Put together a couple of wins over SEC opponents and suddenly his team is on a “run.” Play Florida a third time, keep it close, lose by only one point, and  “UK is back.” Convincing wins over Kansas State and Wichita State and, suddenly, Kentucky is “on a roll.”

Continue reading “Pressure cooker week for John Calipari”

Calipari may have been coaxed into Louisville’s NBA debate

Raise your hand if you’re surprised John Calipari would insert himself into the debate on Mayor Greg Fischer’s efforts to draw a National Basketball Association franchise to Louisville.

If there’s anything puzzling about the University of Kentucky basketball coach’s action, it is that Fred Cowgill, of WLKY, would allow himself to be used as a pawn. Cowgill,  one of several Louisville media people invited to Lexington for “exclusive” interviews, has been named “Best of Louisville” in TV sports by Louisville Magazine for 15 consecutive years.

Calipari has been too quiet for too long for his involvement to be spontaneous. Most likely it was orchestrated.

“An NBA team that comes to our state makes Louisville a professional city and a professional state,” Calipari said. “What happens is you think it takes away from your program; it only steals some of the media. So instead of always being on the top column, you’re going to share that …”

Of course Calipari would have no problem with an NBA team in Louisville, knowing that a professional franchise would negatively affect UofL basketball. He delights in getting under the skin of Rick Pitino and Louisville fans.

He had been relatively quiet for months, probably because of a column by Rick Bozich, former Courier-Journal columnist now WDRB-TV sports analyst, who wrote in October 2011 that Calipari had a bad case of Pitino envy. This followed a Calipari jibe that UK basketball had no competition in the state.

“I guess he likes doing it, and knows he’ll get a reaction for it,” Bozich said in a follow-up video. “The best thing Louisville fans can do is just ignore it.”

Bozich is right, of course, except that a portion of the community fawns on UK basketball and Calipari. This ensures that the topic doesn’t go away for a while, the local sports media thriving on any UofL-UK controversy.

The timing is curious. Calipari has been too quiet for too long for his involvement to be spontaneous. Most likely it was orchestrated.

We suspect some current or former elected officials may have encouraged to Calipari to speak out as part of the Louisville Metro administration’s efforts to pressure UofL into renegotiating the lease for the KFC Yum! Center — even if landing an NBA franchise is a remote possibility.

Reshuffling again on Louisville fan message boards

A mass exodus of members is occurring from the Louisville Scout fan site, at least temporarily, with the word that site administrator Mike Hughes is moving from ITV/Scout to Louisville.247sports.

Haven’t seen anything like it since many of the same fans stampeded from Rivals to ITV several years ago. The reason, as I recall, was that Rivals was instituting a pay board. This was in the early days of message boards and there was a lot of confusion. Many of the longtime posters were incensed that someone would profit from their participation. Funny thing was ITV did the same thing within a few short weeks.

The “community” that Scout cultivated over several years surprisingly may not be strong enough to endure the departure of its perceived leader. They’re in the process of rebuilding relationships again on still another site. The posters who choose to stay, like the posters who remained at Rivals, will be sniped and gossiped about ad infinitum at the newest nesting place.

What’s really fascinating about message boards is how people who assume anonymity under fictitious names, or pseudonyms, become so protective of their assumed identities. These mystery guys sometimes coming to hyperspace blows with people they don’t know and are unlikely to ever meet in person. Probably a good thing they don’t use their real names but we digress …

Another contributing factor to the latest exodus is that Jody Demling, soon to be formerly of the Courier-Journal, will reportedly be taking over at ITV. Demling is perceived to be a University of Kentucky fan, rightly or wrongly, because he was the one reporting so many of John Calipari’s recruiting successes over the past few years.

One new 247sports poster even suggested that Demling could get in UofL’s good graces by exposing Calipari’s unique recruiting system. That, in fact, would make national headlines.

Despite being a graduate of the University of Louisville, Demling will face some challenges in his new post.  Sports fans, no matter who they pull for, are a suspicious lot and often unforgiving, especially when the individual concerned has worked for a newspaper that must provide extensive coverage to a hated rival.

This could get interesting, even without the perceived UK connection.

Demling has been at this recruiting game for a while so he should have developed many strong contacts. Despite still being at the C-J, his tweets of late have focused largely on UofL recruiting. He has some advantages because he has been doing this for quite a while and he’s a genuinely nice person (if one can get past the UK label).

Hughes apparently is able to travel more in his new position and has joined the masses ogling talent at the basketball camps. He’s systematic in the way he approaches his job, overly competitive, sometimes attempting to squelch competition. One gets the impression at times with Hughes that the fan site is more about the business than about his being a fan. He will make it work, come hell or high water.

For savvy fans, the best news is that now there will essentially be three major UofL fan sites with message boards with different perspectives and inclinations. Fans needing a daily fix on University of Louisville football and basketball news usually can’t get enough.

Calipari king of Kentucky’s make-believe world

John Calipari finally has his NCAA basketball championship. He’s riding high, the king of the basketball world, wanting everything his way.

Proclaiming “We are Kentucky,” he wants to establish new boundaries for long-time rivalries and move big games to neutral venues, making it easier for UK to prepare for the year-end tournament action. Taking advantage of a unique recruiting system that attracts one-and-done players and piles up wins, he wants to further improve his odds, bullying rival schools if necessary.

A week after Calipari said Indiana University had refused to compromise on that series, IU released a letter showing just the opposite. Indiana had suggested a a four-year contract that included home and away games, along with two games at a neutral site. UK rebuffed the suggestion, saying that would force Kentucky to cancel the series with the University of Louisville.

What one has to do with the other makes sense only in that Calipari is committed to softening the schedule. Proposed dates with IU have been replaced with teams like Portland and Samford, for example.

What would be funny if it weren’t so sad is that he seems to expect the rest of the world to go along with his schemes. Calipari seems to believe UK deserves preferential treatment, as if he has earned respect and admiration of his colleagues with all the wins during his tenure.

Not surprising that this is happening at UK, whose fans believe college sports revolve around their basketball team, ignorant of the preeminence of football. That misconception, when combined with their collective arrogance and the distorted ego of a coach who has bought into that kind of thinking, is more likely to breed disrespect and contempt from their associates and competitors.