The UK-IU Series Has Apparently Ended and I am Not Thrilled
I have a lot of “if I were King of the World” rules. Maybe if I manage to write this blog long enough, I’ll get to most of them. I added one today.
If I were King of the World, I’d ban regular season neutral site games. Period.
Today, the Kentucky-Indiana basketball series apparently died – or at least is headed for a serious nap – because the schools couldn’t agree on where to play. You know, I used to have that problem all the time, except that it wasn’t in my days of working in college athletics. It was when I was 10, playing Wiffle Ball (capitalized because it should always be played with THE Wiffle Ball and Bat. None of that poseur garbage). The biggest problem we ever had getting up games was when one kid wanted the game in his yard and another kid wanted the game in theirs. I never imagined that dynamic could carry over to one of the greatest regional rivalries in college basketball.
But it has. And it’s inexcusable.
I have heard at least three reasons/excuses already made as to why Kentucky wanted the games at neutral sites.
Kentucky Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart (who I like a great deal and who I don’t think gets nearly enough credit for what he has achieved at Kentucky), told Kyle Tucker of the Courier-Journal (or maybe it was somebody else who tweeted it) that he didn’t like the fact that every other year only 100 Kentucky fans could go to the game. Never mind that this is the official number of tickets Kentucky got and NOT the number of Kentucky fans who got in the game. If it is I know 40 or so of the 100 most connected people in Kentucky, which I think is unlikely. Let’s say that number is how many UK fans saw the game in Assembly Hall in Bloomington – so what? Give them 100 tickets the next year and play the damn game. The rest of us can watch it on TV.
I’ve seen that it’s all about Cal doing whatever it takes to prepare for the NCAA Tournament. Look I get that the NCAA Tournament games are played at neutral sites (or at least as neutral as annual games in North Carolina can be for Duke and UNC), but you don’t think that game at IU this year helped make that team better? If you don’t, you’re crazy. I think that loss HELPED last year’s team. It helped prepare them for at Vanderbilt and at Mississippi State, both of which turned into wins.
I’ve seen somebody surmise that close friends John Calipari and Tom Crean may not like the idea of playing against each other and this impasse was the only way to get away from it. Nobody forced them to take these jobs. If that has anything to do with it, I would be beyond furious. These programs aren’t about them. Play the damn game.
In his official statement, Barnhart reference trying to rekindle the electricity that was in the arenas when he first arrived at Kentucky and the games were played at neutral sites. I have to admit, he ALMOST has me here. I got to go to one of those games. My wife got me tickets to the game at Freedom Hall as an early Christmas present the first year we were married. And it was awesome. Barnhart is right about that. A #7 Kentucky team snuck by a not as good Indiana team 73-70 in a rocking arena. I loved it. I loved that I got to be there – never mind that I still have no idea how we got the tickets. But that’s no reason to torpedo the series.
And you know who got screwed in that deal? Season ticket holders.
Yep, the folks that pay the K-Fund or Red and White Striped Pants Fund fees or whatever. And THAT’s why I’d ban neutral site games. They hose the fans who commit the most to the program. Neutral site games are never a part of the season ticket package. So while I’m sure season ticket holders get first dibs on tickets to the neutral site games, those dibs come at a cost. And next year that cost could be a doozie. Who’s on next year’s home schedule? Not North Carolina. Not Indiana now. Not Louisville. Hell, Louisville is the only one of those teams that’s likely even be on the schedule (how is that Cal Twitter quiz working out everybody?). Oh, there are big games on the schedule. There’s Duke (neutral-Atlanta). There’s an atrocious Maryland team (neutral-Brooklyn; Not even Manhattan — Brooklyn; I guess you can stay in Manhattan) and a likely road game in the SEC/BIG EAST Challenge. Who’s on the Rupp Arena schedule? Who knows, but get ready for a steady diet of MAAC- and/or SWAC-level schools before January, because NOBODY else is coming here without a home and home series. So in addition to your K-Fund donation and the cost of your tickets, get ready to pay for airfare and/or hotel rooms to see non-conference game worth a damn. Congratulations.
In his statement Barnhart said that he thought UK and IU had a verbal agreement to play the next two seasons at neutral sites and then revisit a home and home series, and that IU backed out. And by all accounts today’s announcement seemed to take Barnhart and Kentucky by surprise. If that’s the case, then shame on IU.
Wait, the hell with that. Still shame on both of them. Both schools should be required when they print their 2012-13 schedules to pick a Saturday in mid-December and just list it as “Screw You, Fans.”
I’m all for making all the money you possibly can. And there is no disputing that neutral sites would make the most money for everybody (except the fans), but this isn’t Memphis (no offense). The UK-IU series has been part of a public trust for as long as I’ve been alive. It is border states playing for bragging rights. It’s USA-Russia without the nuclear weapons. It’s what for most of my life has made following sports awesome. No matter what people who have been following college basketball for two minutes say, it was important. If you can name a bigger non-conference regional rivalry series, have at it (Shut up, Illinois and Missouri fans. You’re wrong.) It was too important to play chicken with. It’s not Wiffle Ball. Play the damn game.
I will be filling in for Gabe tonight on Big Blue Insider. It’s a short show ahead of Kentucky Baseball. We’ll continue the discussion of the end of the UK-IU series and get you ready for tomorrow’s Derby from 6-6:45 on NewsRadio 630 WLAP and wlap.com.