Lunchtime Reading: The Rivalry

You will have to forgive me if college basketball is still on my mind as we head towards the end of March and the very beginning of April. While my beloved Kentucky Wildcats take on arch-rival Louisville Cardinals in this weekend’s Final Four down in New Blue Orleans, ESPN is devoting more airtime to the rivalry than ever before. Even more than the usual airtime that North Carolina and Duke receive. Stick with me here. The point is this: when it comes to college basketball, the Kentucky-Louisville rivalry is most similar to that of the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs when it comes to Major League Baseball. Similarly, the North Carolina-Duke gets the very same media love that the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox receive.

It’s a shame, too. Both St. Louis and the Chicago Cubs have fairly large media markets and fan bases. Because they aren’t in the New York media market, they don’t receive anywhere close to the same media love that ESPN devotes to both the Yankees and Red Sox. Nielsen ranks St. Louis #21 and Chicago #3 in the Designated Market Area.

I believe it was Colin Cowherd that once said that even when the Cardinals are not playing in the World Series, the St. Louis media market always scores the highest ratings. I can’t find a link that backs me up on this but I remember hearing him rant about it some years ago. Similarly, WLKY in Louisville, Ky. has been the number 1 market for at least a decade when it comes to CBS affiliates during the first two weekends of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament–the CBS/Turner Sports agreement did not start until the 2011 tournament.

More often than not, when it comes to selecting the games to air on ESPN, if the Cardinals play the Cubs at the same time that the Yankees play the Red Sox, we all know which game gets the priority on ESPN or the FOX game of the week. It’s Yankees-Red Sox.

If there’s one thing I miss about Baseball Tonight, it’s that Harold Reynolds was one of the few on the show that realized that there’s more to baseball than the Yankees and Red Sox. While I do realize that Reynolds is now working for the MLB Network, I don’t exactly have that network to choose for watching baseball news and analysis. Blame Insight, which has been purchased by Time Warner Cable. While TWC carries the MLB Network, it’s yet to appear on the cable channels offered to the Insight customers.

Every Hall of Fame ceremony? I have to watch online. But I digress. Back to the point at hand here. The media love for the Cards-Cubs just is not and never will be the same as Yankees-Red Sox. Something has got to change about this. No, something needs to change.

Maybe the new management of the Chicago Cubs will lead the Cubs to a playoff berth, where there’s a chance for St. Louis to take on Chicago in the National League Championship Series for a spot to go to the World Series. I can dream. Lord knows there’s only been so many Yankees-Red Sox ALCS series. Okay, there’s only been three of them back in 1999, 2003, and 2004. That said, since the Wild Card was introduced, there have been several years where both teams won the American League East and wild card, respectively (1995, 1998, 1999, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, and 2009).

But the Cardinals and Cubs? Never during the postseason.

Will Bud Selig’s new playoff rules change whether or not such a series can happen with two wild card teams? I don’t know. Even that whole idea needs reforming. My suggestion? Make it a best of 3 series. I would not even dare consider suggesting a best of 5 series as that would only stretch the playoffs into December.

Both rivalries are heated and there’s no denying that fact. I can admit that I have no problem walking through the streets of Chicago proudly wearing my St. Louis Cardinals clothing…and living to tell the tale about it. Furthermore, it’s nice, too, that Cardinals fans have Sedgwick’s to eat or drink at during a game.

As for me, it does not really feel like baseball season begins until after the final buzzer sounds on Monday night’s national championship game. In all likelihood, this is because I was raised in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, where college basketball is not just a way of life but a religion as well. You can rest assured that, come April 4th, my TV will be tuned into ESPN for Opening Day coverage between the Cardinals and Florida Miami Marlins.

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Tags: ESPN Fox Sports MLB Network Rivalry St Louis Cardinals Television

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