So the news was somewhat mixed for me and other UK fans with the news that the highly anticipated Kentucky-Louisville game will be on ESPN Classic at 7:30 pm on September 15. On the one hand the news is positive. A few weeks ago, it looked as if the game could receive no national television coverage at all and there was talk that the only way it could be broadcast was on local networks, with an odd starting time. However, the schools were able to work out a deal with Classic, and now it will be on the family of ESPN networks, with the accompanying attention that may bring. But it was also a bit of a downer, as some of us had held out hope that maybe, just maybe, a miracle could happen and this game would get the attention it so richly deserves on a higher profile spot….possibly the ESPN 2 night game. But alas, Georgia Tech-Boston College took it, and the news today confirms that at least some national outlet will host the game.
As some saw earlier, my initial reaction was disappointment. I firmly believe that this is the year that Kentucky will beat Louisville and finally get that top 15 win that the program truly deserves. Because of that, I want the biggest national stage possible for the occasion. Last year, when Rutgers beat Louisville on a Thursday night, it was a coming out party for the program and the Rutgers coach has said it was the single biggest recruiting moment for the University in its history. I had visions of a minor type of victory like this, with the second best quarterback in the country taking it to the so-called best quarterback in the country and the nation realizing that the Big Blue is for real. So hearing that the game would be on ESPN Classic, which normally only hosts Northwestern-Purdue or Army-SMU type contests (when was the last time you watched a game on that network?), was a bit deflating. I mean where is the red carpet when we need it?
But then I got some numbers this evening which do make it a little better. ESPN Classic is available in 60 million homes in the USA, just 20 million fewer than either ESPN or ESPN2. That is certainly good. The game will be available all over the state and the two big networks, WHAS and WKYT will broadcast it live to most of the Commonwealth. That is also good and may even allow more Kentuckians to see it than if the game was on ESPN. Plus, the difference in actual eyes may not be huge. UK-UL drew a 1.84 rating last year in its prime Sunday slot….which isnt exactly great (as compared to say a 2.20 for the UK Music City Bowl win on a Friday afternoon), so maybe the ratings werent much of an issue anyway. In that respect, the matchup was simply not marquee and getting it on at all is good for both schools. Plus, in this day of satellite television and multiple networks, if the game is good people will find it…..and this game should be good.
So my initial pessimism is somewhat tempered. However having said that, I am still disappointed. Ultimately UK made the best of a difficult situation with the Cats-Cards game being played on Super Saturday with Fla-Tenn, USC-Neb and ND-Mich. But it never should have gotten to this point. Simply put, the game should have never been moved to begin with. Both UK and UL must be cognizant of where their places are on the national landscape. As great as UL has been, nationally, they are still second (or third) tier in most fans’ minds. UK has been a football afterthought for….well, ever and is considered by most national fans as being somewhere between Indiana and Kansas on the national radar. ANY TIME you have a chance to have a national network take your game and put it front and center, you take it. Not just for the fans, but most importantly FOR THE RECRUITS. UL knows this, and that is why they play on Thur nights so much….and UK is doing that this year with the SC game. National exposure is precious and the Cats need a game on television where they dont get blown out…..this would have been the one.
While the ratings were low for last year, it is important to remember that that game was over in the first quarter. This one will be different. The best two quarterbacks in America by some accounts are playing. Both teams will be ranked. One has national title hopes and one has its best team in 20 years. This is a big game….and when matched against the schedule on the FIRST week of the season, it is one of the biggest. Fast forward to the third week and it is no longer as big….and thus ESPN Classic. I understand that Rich Brooks wanted the extra time to prepare for the game and maybe get a look at the new coaching staff and system. Fair enough……but I think a case can be made that this would be the year to sneak up on UL before they get rolling. UK has an experienced team back with major contributors at the skill positions. UL has a new coach, lots of new players and may need time to gel…..now is the time to get the sneak attack early…..at least in my view.
Intelligent minds can disagree on this, and in the end it may not matter. If UK loses the game, we may be glad it was on Classic to begin with. But I worry that we are headed for one of the truly great wins in recent history for the program, and like a tree falling in a deserted forest, no one will hear. The highlight shows will focus on USC, Florida, Michigan and Notre Dame and UK’s win will be one that only the diehards know about. Rather than the focus of the football night, it is a neat story…..kind of like Wake Forest being good last year…..a blip on the Gameday train to other major news. In the end, this may not be of huge importance because after some hand-wringing now, the focus will move to the actual game. But I do feel like UK may have missed an opportunity here to truly showcase the triumph of its football program. But at this point, whats done is done. Now we all have to focus on September 15…..because I truly think it is going to be a blue letter day for Kentucky sports. I plan on being at Commonwealth Stadium and I hope you are too…..cause it is happening folks, I can just feel it…..