CRAWFORD | UK-U of L: We're not talking about the game, we're talking about lunch
Eric Crawford writes about the Governor's Cup Luncheon, and whether UK coach Mark Stoops' decision not to attend means anything to the future of the rivalry.
Thursday, July 24th 2014, 2:13 am EDT by
Thursday, July 24th 2014, 2:21 am EDT
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- I've been trying to get worked up over University of Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops not coming to the Governor's Cup Luncheon this week.
But I've got to say, I know how he feels. He went to SEC Media Days and spent all day promoting his program last Thursday. He spent the day Monday in Bristol, Conn., doing ESPN's "car wash" with SEC coaches. He'll spend a good part of Friday in Louisville for the team's kickoff luncheon in this city.
So yet another drive up I-64 didn't seem too appealing. He gave notice a couple of months ago. The game the luncheon is promoting isn't until November.
I did both the SEC Media Days and the ACC Media Days over the weekend. I've spent 30 hours in a car the past week. I wasn't exactly what you might call fired up to go to the luncheon this week myself.
It's not as if he's backing out of the game. He just couldn't do the luncheon.
After several attempts to build up a good foundation of outrage, I can't. It's a luncheon. I believe it was Allen Iverson who said, "What are we talking about? A luncheon? We're talking about a luncheon, man. We're talking about a luncheon. We ain't talking about the game. We're talking about a luncheon, man."
The governor of Kentucky didn't even show up, and the whole deal is named after him. Both athletic directors, Tom Jurich of Louisville and Mitch Barnhart of Kentucky, were gone on vacation.
Yes, it's summertime and we all need some kind of controversy to get us through to the start of camp, but I'm not feeling this one.
Now, once there, I had a couple of other thoughts. I looked around and saw Fran Curci sitting in the crowd, and some former UK players, and I saw that they were honoring Wilbur Hackett Jr., who was the first African-American team captain of any sport in SEC history, and Warren Bryant, an offensive lineman for Curci who played seven years in the NFL, and Dean Wells, a 1993 graduate who played eight seasons of linebacker in the NFL, and I think it would've been nice for Stoops to be there for those guys.
It would've been the respectful thing to do, not just for those guys, but for the rivalry. Sometimes you have to do things you don't want to do. I know that and I'm not making $2-million plus.
Bobby Petrino was there, chatting with Howard Schnellenberger, answering most of the same questions from media members that he got in his marathon day of media activities at ACC media days. (One tidbit of news: He's opening five preseason practices and one scrimmage to the public.)
One of Petrino's points was that Kroger presents scholarship checks to the schools, and because Kroger has been a substantial and good sponsor to U of L sports, he felt like being there was the right thing.
Fair enough. It was. The presence of Schnellenberger, one of the architects of the renewal of the rivalry, was enough to make it worth heading out to Hurstborne Country Club.
So, like many things that I don't necessarily look forward to, I'm always glad I went.
Here's where we jump off the tracks. Stoops doesn't show at the luncheon, and we all assume it's because UK doesn't want the game. And it fires up all of this speculation about the SEC adding a ninth conference game, and the desire -- not without some foundation in their public utterances on the matter -- that UK somehow doesn't want to play the game.
What Barnhart has said is that he will do what is best for his program and if the SEC adds a ninth game he'll have to consider whether a yearly game against U of L is best.
What Stoops said about the rivalry last week was that he viewed the move of the game to the end of the season as a "permanent switch."
"It will fall in line with some of the other rivalries with the SEC and the ACC on that weekend," Stoops said. "We're looking forward to it. I just left Florida State where there was a great rivalry at the end of the year with Florida and Florida State. We'll play Louisville there. I said it before, you know, it really doesn't much matter to me which place we play them, we're looking forward to the challenge."
I know there are some at UK who would rather not play the game. But I don't think that segment will prevail, even if the SEC expands its schedule. First of all, I don't think the SEC would do away with its requirement of playing a non-conference game against a "big-five" conference member even if it expands to a nine-game league schedule.
Second, in the end, I think pressure from the state and the fans -- who ultimately influence the way things are done -- would steer UK into keeping the rivalry. Most UK fans I know don't want to do away with the rivalry, they just want to win it.
I know, UK needs home games for revenue. But it's already going to get a big boost from the start of the SEC Network, and is in line for a hefty boost via revenue sharing from the new college football playoff. If it can ever get its act together with the state and city, it might also start to be able to get a bigger chunk of revenue out of men's basketball.
UK and U of L played in almost every sport this past season. UK won twice in men's basketball and once in women's. It swept the regular-season meetings with U of L in both baseball and softball. It won in women's soccer (the teams didn't play in men's) and volleyball. It lost in swimming and football.
In most cases, the game shows that these two universities who are so important in this state can come together and compete and get along and in general act like they have some sense.
But football can't?
College football is changing. Soon, the days of scheduling yourself into a bowl game will be over. The College Football Playoff hasn't rendered the regular-season meaningless, but it will render many of the smaller bowls meaningless. They might survive, but people will care even less about them than they do now, which is saying something.
You want to be a part of the show? You get to the New Year's Eve and New Year's Day bowls. You want to get to those? You schedule up -- not just in conference, but in the non-conference.
You have to go all the way back to 1990 to find a UK non-conference opponent from a "big five" conference that wasn't IU or U of L. That opponent was Rutgers. Now they're talking to Cincinnati. Baby steps, I guess.
That's not how you become an SEC power. The Schenllenberger road bears more study. Be bold. Be fearless. Play people. Make yourself better. Either that, or get out of the toughest conference in college football and try to do things some other way.
But Stoops strikes me as more of a stand-and-fight guy.
If UK tries to duck U of L in football, I'll have more to say. But at the moment, all Stoops ducked was lunch.
Petrino's quote of the day, by the way, didn't come in his short session with the media. It came on the way out of the country club, when I heard his voice behind me: "You know the thing that's changed most since I was last in Louisville? Eric Crawford's wardrobe."
I can't argue with him there.
Rivalries also change. And this one has. The traditions surrounding them evolve and grow, some fade. Schnellenberger said, "Starting back before the turn of the century — both centuries — state rivalries are what college football was predicated on. ... This could be Alabama-Auburn. This could be Mississippi-Mississippi State. This could be Georgia-Georgia Tech. I don't know of anything that could overshadow that."
Maybe if both these schools treat this rivalry with the respect it deserves, this football rivalry will grow to that point.
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