Last week the Kentucky-Indiana basketball rivalry died. Next season, the Cats and Hoosiers won’t play in hoops for the first time since the 1969-70 season. The reason? IU wanted to continue to play UK in Bloomington and Lexington while the Wildcats wanted the game to be rotated between Louisville and Indianapolis. Neither side would budge or compromise and basketball fans will pay the price.
But Kentucky’s love for neutral-site games is not limited to its rivalry with Indiana. John Calipari wants his squad to become America’s Team, playing in made-for-TV matchups on neutral courts whenever and wherever possible. Andy Katz of ESPN.com tackles Calipari’s scheduling plan today.
But Coach Cal’s desires aren’t new. As far back as August of 2010 we wrote that UK fans in Lexington might have to put up with lesser-name schools coming to town.
In 2010-11, UK played nonconference games with Boston University, Indiana, Mississippi Valley State, Winthrop, Coppin State, and Pennsylvania at Rupp Arena. Away from home, the Cats played Portland, Oklahoma, Washington, UConn, North Carolina, Notre Dame and Louisville.
In 2011-12, Kentucky fans at Rupp were able to see Marist, Radford, Portland, St. John’s, North Carolina, Chattanooga, Samford, Loyola (MD), Lamar and Louisville. Either on the road or neutral courts, UK faced Kansas, Penn State, Old Dominion, Indiana and Arkansas-Little Rock.
You can now scratch Indiana from the list of teams that will be coming to Lexington. North Carolina officials said last week that UK would not be playing them in the coming season, so that series might or might not return to Lexington in the future.
In the upcoming season, Calipari has Kentucky facing Maryland at the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn and Duke at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Louisville will host this year’s rivalry game with the Wildcats, too.
Look, as long as Calpari is signing one-and-done NBA stars, reaching Final Fours, and hanging championship banners, Kentucky fans will be just fine with him scheduling games in the Kingdom of Tonga or at Newt Gingrich’s moon base. And we at MrSEC.com fully understand UK’s push to brand itself nationally. Still, with the price of tickets these days it would seem that Calipari or Kentucky AD Mitch Barnhart might want to reward their hometown ticket-buyers with a few more big-name games at Rupp Arena.
Then again, Calipari says he’s running a “nontraditional” program and he has to be able to schedule accordingly as one group of one-and-doners might be better or worse than another group:
“We’re not a traditional program. We can’t have our games locked in for nine or 10 years. We don’t know what our roster is going to look like. We have to go year-to-year.
I told our people that we won’t do anything more than a two-year contract because of that. Our league is hard, too. We’re trying to prepare for the NCAA tournament and that tournament is played in domes. Most people just play the home games and you win those, and then go on the road and you lose. But for this program, it’s important to play in big football stadiums because that’s where the NCAA plays the Elite Eight and Final Four. Our freshmen have to play in those kinds of buildings. We’re a nontraditional program so it makes scheduling a little bit different for us.”
Fair enough. But one must wonder if loyal, ticket-buying fans in Lexington are good with seeing one really good nonconference game at home each year… amidst a sea of Radfords, Samfords, and Marists.