FRANKFORT — Politicians and university presidents gathered in Kentucky's capital city Monday for all sorts of reasons, but the conversation inevitably veered to one topic: basketball.
The mayors of Lexington and Louisville, speaking during a break between economic development meetings at the Kentucky History Center, engaged in some friendly trash talk ahead of Saturday's showdown between the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville in the NCAA Final Four.
UK President Eli Capilouto and U of L President Jim Ramsey, speaking on the back steps of the Capitol, said the historic trip to the Final Four was a great springboard to talk about both universities' academic and research accomplishments.
And Gov. Steve Beshear, a UK graduate, played coy on whether he will root for UK or U of L during an afternoon press conference. Beshear joked that he and Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson, the former longtime mayor of Louisville, might trade seats halfway through the game — each spending time rooting for UK and U of L.
When asked what he was wearing to Saturday's game, Beshear said, "I will probably be in my favorite shade of green."
"We can't lose, because someone from Kentucky is going to be in the final game," Beshear said.
Lexington Mayor Jim Gray and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer make a friendly wager on the UK-UofL Final Four game on Saturday.
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, saying he wanted to help "take the sting" out of a loss Saturday for UK, presented Lexington Mayor Jim Gray with a bottle of Woodford Reserve bourbon "to start medicating" Wildcats fans.
Gray called the bourbon produced in Woodford County by the Louisville-based Brown Forman Corp. "high octane ... which encourages fantasies."
In return, Gray gave Fischer bottles of Alltech's Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale, which he said would help provide the "generous lubrication" that U of L fans will need to help their loss go down easier on Saturday.
Gray said the two mayors have made a friendly wager on the outcome of the game: If Kentucky wins, Fischer will wear blue to the final game of the NCAA tournament. If Louisville wins, Gray will wear red to the game.
The Cardinals and the Wildcats will meet in the NCAA Final Four tournament Saturday night in New Orleans, the first NCAA basketball tournament duel between the two schools since 1984. The winner will play for the national championship Monday night.
The two mayors chatted about basketball Monday during a break of a regular meeting of the Bluegrass Economic Advancement Movement, an initiative to develop advanced manufacturing jobs in the region.
At the close of their news conference, Gray and Fischer enticed Capilouto and Ramsey to join them.
The presidents talked about working together and pride in their teams, but neither said a discouraging word about each other's basketball team.
Capilouto and Ramsey, at another news conference later Monday, said they would like to see lawmakers restore the $450 million in agency- financed bond funding for state universities that was cut from Beshear's proposed state budget. House and Senate leaders began negotiations on the budget Monday.
"We are looking for the opportunity to earn our way out of this," Capilouto said. "We have asked for the opportunity to use agency bonds to build our future forward."
On a less-serious note, Ramsey said he has worn the same Adidas "Infrared" U of L shirt throughout the NCAA tournament and he will wear it again in New Orleans.
"I haven't washed it, because I'm afraid it will shrink and won't fit me, so you don't want to sit near me during the game," Ramsey said.
The hoopla over the UK-U of L game flowed over into the state Senate.
Two senators introduced opposing resolutions. Sen. Gerald Neal, D-Louisville, presented a measure to honor and congratulate the Cardinals, and Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, did the same for the Wildcats.
Neal predicted that the Cardinals will "put a whipping" on the Cats, and Thayer predicted a victory for UK.