Mark Story

Mark Story: Radio talkers say moving Cats-Cards to season's end has dulled pre-season football buzz in Kentucky

Kentucky team raised the Governor's Cup after Kentucky defeated Louisville 23-16 in Papa Johns Stadium on Sept. 4, 2010. It was the Cats' last victory in the rivalry.
Kentucky team raised the Governor's Cup after Kentucky defeated Louisville 23-16 in Papa Johns Stadium on Sept. 4, 2010. It was the Cats' last victory in the rivalry.

When Drew Deener traveled to this year's ACC football media days in Greensboro, N.C., the sports talk radio host said somebody asked him about this year's Kentucky-Louisville game.

"The bells sort of went off for me," said Deener, host of the morning drive time Deener Show on WHBE-AM 680 in Louisville. "I realized it was the first time all summer anyone had asked me about the UK-U of L game. It's weird."

Certainly, it's different.

When the Kentucky-Louisville football series was launched in 1994, one of the reasons the schools agreed to play annually as the season opener was to gin up pigskin talk over the summer in our college hoops-obsessed state.

For the most part, it worked. Cats-Cards football talk has been a dominant part of the summer sports scene in the commonwealth for two decades now. This remained basically true even after Kentucky insisted, starting in 2007, on playing its home game in the Governor's Cup rivalry as the season's second (in 2009) or third contest.

This year, at the demand of the SEC and the ACC, the Kentucky-Louisville game will move to the regular season's final week. Played on the same weekend as Florida-Florida State, South Carolina-Clemson and Georgia-Georgia Tech, Cats-Cards will essentially become part of an SEC-ACC "rivalry challenge."

That may turn out to be cool.

With both the PGA Championship at Valhalla and the upcoming UK men's basketball exhibition tour of the Bahamas, the first week of college football practice has had a battle to attract attention. Yet even before this week, I have wondered if we aren't seeing how the absence of an early-season Cats-Cards matchup cuts down on the intensity of summer football talk in the commonwealth.

So I polled guys whose jobs it is to generate sports talk every day — Kentucky radio sports talk show hosts.

Larry Glover, whose nightly Larry Glover Live is on Lexington's WVLK-AM 590, says he thinks there has definitely been less discussion of the UK-U of L game on his show than in prior years.

"We still talk UK-U of L," he said, "but it has been more a comparison of the programs, or how their recruiting is going and not very much about the game. With Louisville going to the ACC, some of our callers have wanted to talk about them now having to play 'big boy football,' to paraphrase some of the callers."

Glover says he does not believe there is less college football talk on his show. "I'd have to check my program logs to know for sure, but my gut feeling is the overall level of football talk is about the same," he said.

Conversely, Chris Cross, one of the hosts of The Sports Huddle on WLXG-AM 1300 in Lexington, says he thinks the decline in callers wishing to talk football this summer "is perceptible. The UK-U of L talk is nonexistent. There is some general UK talk, but not nearly as much as there was when the game was early. I just don't feel the same buzz."

Dick Gabriel, who hosts The Big Blue Insider on Lexington's WLAP AM-630, believes overall football discussion "is down a little bit. I think (moving the UK-U of L game) may be part of that, but I think it is more because of (interest in basketball) recruiting in general and the Bahamas trip.

"There has been Kentucky football talk," Gabriel said. "A couple of people have called in to ask 'What is Louisville going to have?' But, unlike past years, there's just not talk about the actual game at all."

Unlike Kentucky, which opens with Tennessee-Martin of the FCS, Louisville is beginning its season by playing the Miami Hurricanes in what will be U of L's first ACC football game.

"It's not that people (in Louisville) aren't excited about that, because they are," Deener said. "But it's not the same as with UK. With Miami, there's no built-in hatred."

Deener, who used to work in television and radio here, says the Lexington and Louisville media markets are similar in a big way.

"We are a proactive state in basketball. You can break down positions, matchups, how everything meshes on basketball teams and people want to talk about that," he said. "But in football, the markets are reactive. You need a game, something to rehash to get talk going.

"The one exception to that, the Kentucky-Louisville game is really the only football game that you could really proactively break down in the run-up to the game and get people to engage. This summer, all that talk is gone."