By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky will open the 2011 season in another National Football League Stadium.
An official announcement will be made this week that Kentucky and Western Kentucky have agreed to a four-year series that will have the Hilltoppers playing in Commonwealth Stadium in 2010 and 2012 while the games in 2011 and 2013 will be played at LP Field in Nashville, the home of the NFLÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Tennessee Titans.
The Wildcats are opening this season at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, the home of the Cincinnati Bengals, against Miami. The deal with Western Kentucky will be similar in the way tickets are split between the two teams for the neutral site game as well as the revenue distribution.
Kentucky fans certainly enjoyed games at LP Field when the Cats beat Clemson in the 2007 Music City Bowl and Florida State in the same bowl a year later. The stadium seats close to 70,000 fans and UK had an estimated 50,000 fans there for the Clemson game and over 40,000 to see the win over Florida State.
The games at LP Field could be played on either Thursday night or Saturday depending on the NFL preseason schedule or previous agreements with Tennessee State, which also uses the field for some home games.
While some coaches might be hesitant to play an in-state rival that has just made the climb to full-time Division I status, Kentucky coach Rich Brooks apparently is not one of them. Kentucky beat Western 41-3 last season and then both Brooks and Western coach Dave Elson indicated they would be open to playing again.
Kentucky associate athletics director Rob Mullens said when the game with Miami was announced that Brooks made scheduling easy for him.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Rich no reservations about scheduling. He is fantastic with football scheduling. He understands the market place and all the parameters of scheduling. They donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t come any better than Rich Brooks when you talk about scheduling.Ã¢â‚¬Â
For Western, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s more exposure for its football program. The Hilltoppers will host the Kentucky state high school championship games at their renovated stadium in Bowling Green starting this year.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We are really excited about that. We have such a great community and campus and now we have a great facility,Ã¢â‚¬Â Elson said when he was in Danville in June for the Kentucky Football Coaches Association clinic. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I think with the kids that are going to be playing in those games they are going to say what a great environment we have. Fans will too.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Our stadium is tight. There are 25,000 seats and they are right on top of you. I think it will provide more of big-game field for the state championships. We are excited about getting that many players, coaches and fans to our facility to see we really do have a big-time Division I facility.Ã¢â‚¬Â
However, he said it would take more than just that to draw the attention Western needs to compete for bowl bids and loftier future goals.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We have got to recruit and allow the facility to attract top talent and kids not only in Kentucky but around country. It will take time. We know that. Our goal is to win our conference and go to a bowl game. But we also have to look for ways to gain more exposure for our program and what we are doing,Ã¢â‚¬Â Elson said.
Playing Kentucky four straight years should help, especially with the Southeastern ConferenceÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s new TV deal with ESPN that guarantees every UK game will be televised. For Kentucky, having a non-conference foe other than Louisville on the schedule for four straight years is a huge plus, especially when two of the games will be neutral site contests in a NFL stadium that fans and players both like.
ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s why when the deal is officially announced, it will be a win-win for both teams.