Mark Story: Dream Weekend — How to make UK-U of L into the most talked-about college sports rivalry in the country

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistAugust 22, 2013 

Moving the Kentucky-Louisville football game to the season's end starting in 2014 has created an opening for sports power brokers in the commonwealth to make the UK-U of L rivalry the most talked about in American college athletics.

For reasons unique to Kentucky, playing the Wildcats-Cardinals football game as the season opener always made the most sense.

Playing first gave our state's marquee college football game a chance to enter the national conversation in a way it does not get when played later in the season when matchups of more traditional football powers seize the spotlight.

UK-U of L as the opener helped steer the summer sports conversation here on Planet Hoops out of constant basketball recruiting updates and onto the pigskin sport.

Yet since 2007, when UK began playing its home games in the Governor's Cup rivalry either as the second (2009) or third contest of the season, our state's marquee college football matchup had lost some of its ability to stand out from the crowd and gin up off-season football interest.

So this week's announcement that, at the request of the Southeastern Conference and the Atlantic Coast Conference, the UK-U of L football matchup will move to the season finale next season is A-OK by me.

In fact, there is now a way to create a "Super Bowl week" of sports in our state. With Kentucky-Louisville football shifting to late November, why not move the UK-U of L men's and women's basketball contests to the same weekend?

Imagine:

Friday, you play the UK-U of L women's basketball contest.

Saturday, it's Kentucky-Louisville football.

Sunday, the Cats meet the Cards in men's basketball.

Do it that way every year.

In the days leading up to "Armageddon Weekend," the energy in the commonwealth would have this state rocking off its foundations. When the games came on the three days immediately after Thanksgiving, can you imagine what the discussions would be like on Turkey Day in "mixed families" in which there are both Cats and Cards fans?

If the powers that be at Louisville and Kentucky committed to making "Rivalry Weekend" happen, I think there is a realistic chance they could pull it off.

The football game has already been moved to late November by SEC Commissioner Mike Slive and ACC boss John Swofford. When Louisville officially enters the ACC in 2014-15, the season-ending Cats-Cards football matchup will join Florida-Florida State, South Carolina-Clemson and Georgia-Georgia Tech in forming something of a late-season SEC-ACC challenge.

In women's basketball, Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell and Louisville head man Jeff Walz learned from UK-U of L scheduling controversies in sports like football and volleyball and reached a standing agreement to annually play on the first Sunday in December.

It shouldn't be that hard to transfer that handshake deal into playing on the Friday before the Kentucky-Louisville football game each year.

In men's basketball, UK and U of L in recent years have tended to play on or near New Year's Eve. Television money being the force that makes the major college athletics world spin, that date is being prompted by TV programming demands.

However, unlike in football, UK and U of L ought to have the leverage in men's basketball to dictate when they want to play. You have two schools that have combined to win 11 NCAA titles, including the two most recent, and are national brands in college hoops. They are also programs, at least for now, coached by celebrities of a country-wide profile who are also among the more polarizing figures in American sports.

So if Tom Jurich and Mitch Barnhart tell the television networks that they want their schools to play men's basketball against each other on a Sunday late in November, I'm confident they could find somebody willing to pay handsomely to televise the proceedings — even if the game is up against NFL contests.

One weekend, three days, Cats vs. Cards in the three most visible college sports. The commonwealth would have a signature weekend of college sports unlike any other.

It comes down to, do UK and U of L and their leaders have the vision to see what is possible and the willingness to cooperate in seizing the chance?

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Email: mstory@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com.

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