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.

Big 4 Bridge lighting competition offends hometown UofL fans

A fundraising event in Louisville is designed to fail, destined to thud like a lead balloon with University of Louisville fans.

Some people with too much time on their hands at the Waterfront Park decided to pit the UofL against the University of Kentucky in a bridge-lighting competition in UofL’s home town.

A bull-in-a-china-shop kind of terrible idea, a concept sure to offend every UofL fan in the city — the potential of lighting a major attraction in honor of a hated rival on a major local landmark. Some PR novice obviously at work, embarrassing UofL fans with the very idea.

The winning side having its colors light up the Big 4 Bridge before the rivalry basketball game on Wednesday. An in-your-face kind of slight which will ensure that the losers have negative vibes for the local attraction.

No doubt David Karem, the president of the Waterfront Development Corporation and a UofL Law School grad, was out of the office, out of town, or out of his mind when the concept was approved. We’re pretty sure the majority of funds for the waterfront park have come from Louisvillians and local companies. 

This is one observer who would not even consider making a contribution to the project.  And we doubt that more than a handful of other UofL fans will get involved in the project. As of 10 a.m. on Friday, UK fans had donated $434 as opposed to $134 for UofL fans.

Not surprising that Louisville fans are not getting involved. They shouldn’t have to even consider it. Few UofL fans will support it.

This is one event that the Kentucky Sports Radio web site is sure to get behind because it provides UK fans with an opportunity to insult UofL fans in their own hometown. They will give big. 

That we can understand. What’s impossible to comprehend, however, is why the Waterfront Development Corporation would prostitute itself raising funds at the risk of embarrassing the primary base of support for the Big 4 Bridge. 

Louisville gets football foe that has eluded UK

While some fans of school in Lexington may be ready to relegate their football program back to its dusty spot on the shelf, already having morphed into basketball mode, followers of the University of Louisville are preparing for one of the most symbolic football games in school history.

UofL and Notre Dame will meet for the first time ever in football Saturday at South Bend, ushering in a significant new rivalry. The iconic symbol of collegiate athletic programs in America, Notre Dame is the team every other team in America wants to play.

Photo by Menefee Seay

Saturday’s game will be another reaffirmation of the school’s commitment to compete at the highest levels in all sports. While basketball will always be a prestige program, Rick Pitino’s teams must share top billing with Bobby Petrino’s football program. UofL has been investing heavily in both programs for quite a while.

That’s as it should be because college football is among America’s most popular sports, falling only behind the National Football League and Major League Baseball in overall popularity, according to a 2014 Harris Poll. Auto racing is fourth, the National Basketball Association fifth, and the National Hockey League is sixth.

College basketball is seventh, believe it or not, only slightly ahead of tennis, boxing, swimming and golf. The poll results aren’t broken down by geography but suffice it to say, college basketball would obviously score much higher in Kentucky. Even in Louisville, which is consistently among the top TV markets for NCAA basketball.

Tom Jurich is ahead of the curve, having made the UofL football program one of his top priorities after his arrival. He has already engineered one major stadium expansion and he’s considering still another. Jurich was working for a date with Notre Dame long before the Atlantic Coast Conference was considered a possibility. He was able to leverage UofL’s football and basketball success into ACC membership, paving the way for this historic game.

Meanwhile over in Lexington, the University of Kentucky is finally renovating Commonwealth Stadium to accommodate more luxury suites (even though it is losing 6,000 seats) and investing in Mark Stoops to make football competitive. No doubt Kentucky fans will quickly jump aboard the band wagon if and when he does. Meanwhile, UK will remain a basketball school in a conference in which football will always be king.

Curiously, Kentucky and Notre Dame have never played in football, despite having played 62 basketball games since 1929. Whether UK administrators weren’t able to use their basketball leverage to get on Notre Dame’s schedule, UK couldn’t envision such a game, or the Irish simply weren’t interested may never be known. But it probably says something about Kentucky’s over-the-top obsession with basketball.

Louisville in Kentucky, but Louisville not Kentucky

Mayor Greg Fischer has thus far avoided any temptation to declare Saturday a “Wear Blue Day” in Louisville Metro in honor of the University of Kentucky basketball team making it the NCAA Final Four.

That’s good. Let’s hope he doesn’t bow to political pressure to do otherwise.

Adam Himmelsbach, a Courier-Journal sportswriter from New York, has taken it on himself to publicize the efforts of Jim Denny, a Louisvillian and UK fan, who initiated a petition drive for a support UK day. “Now that the Cardinals are out, why not acknowledge the large swaths of blue that permeate our city?” he asked in a Friday column.

The best reason not to provide the recognition is that the vast majority of UK fans have never acknowledged the University of Louisville’s success. I can count on one hand the number of UK fans who have congratulated me for UofL’s national championship last year … and all but one of them had to be coaxed into it.  For the most part, they rarely support anything that benefits the local university.

The Mayor could possibly gain a few political points if he relented, but not many. In fact, it’s quite possible that he would lose much more than he gained, infuriating many UofL fans if he were to declare a UK day in Louisville Metro.

Not surprising that a Courier-Journal sportswriter would support an effort in support of UK.  For decades, the C-J, under former managing editor David Hawpe went way overboard in covering the Lexington school on its news, sports and editorial pages. Hawpe was recently appointed to the UK board of trustees and is a member of the UK Journalism Hall of Fame. Anyone surprised?

The Mayor should be congratulated, not goaded, for standing firm in his support of the University of Louisville.