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Rescheduling Aligns Cards’ Opener, Derby

By Dave Holcomb
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A college football season opener and the biggest event in horse racing will be crossing paths the same week.

With the coronavirus still raging across the United States, change may be coming to the college football season. In Louisville, one small alteration as a result of the pandemic has already arrived, and assuming it remains, it could actually be one of the coolest experiences of the fall.

At the end of June, Cardinals football and the ACC announced they will move the Louisville season opener against N.C. State to a day earlier -- from Thursday, Sept. 3 to Wednesday, Sept. 2. The change came in light of the Kentucky Derby postponing its race from the first Saturday in May to Labor Day weekend.

Cardinal Stadium, where Louisville plays its home football games, and Churchill Downs are located two miles from each other and share multiple parking lots. With no disrespect to the other sports in Kentucky, it doesn’t get any bigger in the state than the Kentucky Derby, so in order to avoid conflict with the derby’s festivities, the ACC allowed Louisville and NC State to schedule the opener the day prior.

But what the new schedule will provide is a truly unique sports experience in Louisville with a college football season opener and the biggest event in horse racing crossing paths the same week.

The unfortunate thing is the likelihood of anyone attending one or both of the sporting events appears slim. Similar to a lot of places in the United States, COVID-19 cases in Kentucky are rising. There is such a steady climb that college football might be closer to cancelling its season altogether than having fans in the stands. The ACC could also push back football’s opening week, which would move the Louisville-N.C. State matchup away from the deby.

But let’s think positively for a change. Assuming things don’t continue to worsen with the virus to the point where places shutdown again, the sports calendar late this summer will have football, baseball, basketball and hockey occuring at the same time.

There’s actually a little-known name for that -- the sports equinox. That’s when games from the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL all occur on the same day. According to ESPN Stats and Info, the sports equinox happened for the 21st time on Oct. 27, 2019 and has never occurred more than twice in a single year.

This year, there’s the potential for nine sports equinoxes (or is it equinoxi?) in September alone. Americans can finally give Netflix a break.

The first week of September in Louisville will be equally as exciting on television with both Louisville football and the Kentucky Derby happening. Rather than the sports equinox, let’s call this “thoroughred” (the word thoroughbred combined with the red color of Cardinals. I know it’s lame. I’m easily entertaining; I’ve been inside too long).

Even if only on television, “Thoroughred” week will be an awesome opportunity for Louisville to showcase two of its biggest sporting events of the year nearly back-to-back. It’s hard to foresee what pregame hoopla may be permitted in the coronavirus era, but the intersection of the Kentucky Derby with the Cardinals opener could also give the Louisville and N.C. State players an experience no one in college football has ever seen.

Admittedly, it’s been hard to find positives since the beginning of the pandemic. More than 135,000 people (and counting) have died and million have lost their jobs in the United States alone. The health and safety of everyone from COVID-19 should be the nation’s top priority.

But as life returns to a new normal, sports will present a welcome distraction. One of the best is on tap for Louisville in early September.