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COLUMN: Time to shelve the Governor’s Cup

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By Bob Watkins

The Governor’s Cup, Kentucky at Louisville.
Crunching a few numbers, since 1994, the series has been a fixture for television, albeit played on whatever day and at whatever time a network chooses.
Kentucky leads the series 14-10 and it has been a model for parity. Each school has won half of the last 10 games.
From coaches Howard Schnellenberger to Charlie Strong, Rich Brooks and Joker Phillips, the passion and bragging have been kept mostly at a healthy tone and temperature and decibel level.
Two years ago, the Howard Schnellenberger Award was instituted. Most outstanding player in the game went to UK’s Derrick Locke in 2010, and U of L’s Dexter Heyman last year.
All is well, right? I don’t think so. Certainly not as a season opener.
Times have changed. For Kentucky, SEC expansion means the likelihood of an added league game. For Louisville, moving to another more challenging conference is in the cards.
The Governor’s Cup was a dream-come-true for Schnellenberger and “fair thing,” thinking by Bill Curry. It elevated Louisville football and was a coup for director of athletics Tom Jurich. For Kentucky’s up-and-mostly-down football it has become a physical and psychological bruise tattooed on before going into America’s black-and-bruiser meat grinder SEC.
These things, and with each school having split the last 10 games, next week’s Governor’s Cup should be tie-breaker and right time to put the series on pause. Say, for five years.
Favored by two touchdowns next week and picked to win the Big East this season, Louisville no longer needs the team in Lexington to get a TV date. Cardinal Football has gotten its brand to a level where flirtation with the Big 12 is not a joke.
Kentucky? Start with 2,060 reasons to put the U of L series on the shelf. That’s the number of tickets Wildcat fans did not buy for the Governor’s Cup game next week.
Stark reality: UK fans have taken a powder for week one in 2012 and abandoned their team for its season opener. For Big Blue Nation it’s Labor Day weekend, backyard party and ESPN.
Unless Joker Phillips’ underdog team stuns U of L, or makes an impressive show at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium Sept. 2, the home opener with Kent State (5-7 last year), won’t be a sell-out either.
From there, if we start to hear echoes cascade across empty seats at Commonwealth Stadium, then (nice man) Joker Phillips will start to hear drumbeat and groans in the distance.
We all know too well the rest of this medley.

MIRACLE AT WEST LIBERTY?
Story of the year in Kentucky, 2012? I have a nominee.
Rebuild has been a watch word around West Liberty in Morgan County, since March 4, when a tornado ravaged downtown. Last week a new sparkle of sunlight burst out following the whir of helicopter blades. It became an occasion to stir the soul, restore optimism and faith in our fellows.
University of Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari flew into the town of 4,000-plus and sparked a fundraiser. At the coach’s urging, donations began to roll in, thousands of dollars. Rebuild a town, rejuvenate a county and help a region rebound from its March catastrophe.
Calipari challenged Kentuckians to donate, they did, and he matched every dollar. In November, a basketball game at Rupp Arena will feature former Wildcats with proceeds going to rebuild West Liberty.
What can be said about Calipari’s philanthropy? For all the right reasons, it’s the right thing for celebrities to do. We can be sure, can’t we, Ashley Judd will arrive in Morgan County soon? With her checkbook open of course.
America, I love this place.

CAN’T FIX STUPID DEPARTMENT
Hollywood icon John Wayne said once: “Life’s hard. It’s even harder when you’re stupid.”
An apt description for an item on the Internet last week. About UK freshman-to-be Nerlens Noel, a website kid declared, “UK big man is the most overrated prospect in 2012.
“... his lack of strength, offensive skills and feel for the game will likely prevent Noel from being the player most expect him to be. Averages of eight points, seven rebounds and three blocks per game would be a reasonable expectation as a freshman. Those numbers are not bad. Unfortunately, expectations for Noel are so high that many will consider that kind of season to be a major disappointment and will likely apply the bust tag if Kentucky fails to reach the lofty expectations set for them.”

THE MAN UK FANS FORGOT
The coach (too) many Big Blue Nation fans still try to forget, Dr. Orlando “Tubby” Smith. He received a contract extension from Minnesota recently.
What a career for Tubby. In 21 seasons (Tulsa, Georgia, Kentucky and Minnesota), his teams gave fans 20-plus win season 18 times, all 10 at Kentucky.
At UK, 263-83 (76 percent), three wins in every four games, an NCAA title.
And this statistic: In the pantheon of basketball coaches at Kentucky, only one was never connected to an NCAA rules violation and/or probation.
Quite a legacy for Dr. Tubby Smith.
And so it goes.