The future of the Governor’s Cup could be in doubt.
Based on comments University of Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart made earlier this week, adding Texas and Oklahoma to the Southeastern Conference in 2025 could throw scheduling into conflict — and, by extension, may prevent the Wildcats from playing rival bitter Louisville if the conference expands to a nine-game league slate.
“I want to see where we go with that deal,” Barnhart told the Courier-Journal’s Jon Hale. “That certainly makes our schedule way different. We’ve done a really good job of managing the eight (conference games) and the four non-conference games. With Louisville, that gives you nine (Power 5) games.”
The SEC has two options for scheduling but hasn’t decided one way or another.
Playing eight conference games — the choice that Barnhart and UK head coach Mark Stoops prefer — would mean playing one common team each season with seven rotating opponents.
The nine-game schedule would have teams playing three common foes each season and rotating the other six.
Even after spring meetings earlier this month in Florida, the league couldn’t come to a decision other than wanting to play through the entire conference every two seasons.
“We have more work to do,” conference commissioner Greg Sankey said. “Narrowed it down to a couple of options. You never know what could emerge.”
Either way it goes, though, there’s no reason for UK to take the Governor’s Cup off the table. Simply by looking at the Cats’ non-conference schedule in 2022, there’s definitely room for a rivalry as heated as this one.
This season, in addition to its eight conference games, Kentucky will face Miami-Ohio (Sept. 3), FCS Youngstown State (Sept. 17), Northern Illinois (Sept. 17) and cap off the regular season against the Cardinals (Nov 26).
UK will pay Youngstown State, Stoops’s hometown team, $550,000 for coming to Lexington this year. If the league schedule moves to a nine-game format, it might be time to say goodbye to cutting checks and playing FCS foes every year.
“It’s important to support FCS football because I want people participating in college football,” he said. “I think sometimes we forget about thinking about the end game: Making sure everybody is still playing. If there’s opportunities that go away and there’s not kids that want to play the game of football, the game of football suffers.
“We’ve got to make sure we do things that ensure the game of football and people want to play the game. Keeping FCS football alive is very, very important to that end.”
FCS football should be just fine even without the Cats, but if UK feels that strongly about it, then eliminate one of the other two non-conference games instead.
It really shouldn’t be a difficult decision.
The Governor’s Cup has gone on hiatus before. The two programs first played in 1912, beginning a six-game series over the next 10 years. After that, though, the game wasn’t renewed for another 70 years. It resumed in 1994 and has gone uninterrupted since (aside from 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced SEC teams to play conference foes only).
Both teams would, obviously, survive if they don’t play. But why wouldn’t they want to?
College football is more fun with rivalries, especially with programs and fanbases that despise one another as strongly at UK and Louisville.
Some reports suggest Barnhart is using the game as a bargaining chip to prevent the SEC from moving to a nine-game schedule. Considering the current contract with U of L extends through 2030, there’s likely some truth to that. However, he won’t commit to playing the series past this year until the SEC makes its decision.
Through all the discussions, negotiations and debates over the next few months, one thing should be clear: Keep Louisville on the schedule.