Sadly, the verdict on the novel idea of college basketball on flight decks may be in.
Two top-flight, season-opening games were scheduled outdoors aboard U.S. Navy ships Friday night. Marquette and Ohio State were scheduled to play onboard the USS Yorktown (decommissioned in 1970) while Georgetown and Florida were to play on the active USS Bataan (LHD-5).
Although the pre-game weather forecast seemed optimal with forecasted temps in the low-mid 50’s with very little wind, it was those exact conditions that ultimately led to both events being scrapped.
The Marquette-Ohio State game never got underway, as dew settled on the court between the end of the Notre Dame-Ohio State women’s game that preceded it and the start of the scheduled men’s game in Charleston, SC.
The Florida-Georgetown game did start two hours after Marquette/Ohio State was scheduled to begin in Jacksonville, FL. The first 20 minutes was played, complete with a re-enlistment ceremony during a timeout (with players shaking hands with the sailors). However, as the teams returned from their berthing compartments, the same condensation which ruined the Charleston event had arrived onboard the Bataan, preventing the second half of that game.
Everyone involved in the two events said the right things, that they would go through the experience again, climate risks involving hardwood and all.
But it’s painfully clear there is just too much that can go wrong, and perhaps the few fans silly enough to drop Final Four/Super Bowl-like prices on the ticket broker sites should have realized it.
There are the obvious bad weather scenarios (wind/rain/cold etc.), but as it turns out just simple dew is a deal-breaker as well. Anyone who goes out to their car in the morning knows about wiping off the windows.
Playing the game earlier in the evening, or even late-afternoon, would have been an option. The Ohio State-Notre Dame women went off at 4 PM and played to completion. Although the condensation was not a factor, the teams had to deal with a setting sun in the first half, then chillier conditions in the second half. Incidentally, Chase Field in Phoenix has hosted women’s basketball in past years with the gimmick of having the roof open at the baseball facility.
The men’s game on the Yorktown did not go off, with the scheduled tip quickly giving way to an impromptu field day with players and Marquette coach Buzz Williams attempting to dry off the deck, to no avail. At one point Buzz informed a TV audience that people ‘who know a whole lot more about weather than us’ told him that after they were hoping that the condensation would cease after a 20-minute delay, as Marquette players complete with toupes borrowed from the school’s lacrosse team trudged off the court.
With my personal limited meteorological experience, all I know is that more dew tends to form the colder it gets. Think I may have learned that in seventh grade.
And if it gets cold enough, the dew turns to frost.
The risks were too far great for the student-athletes. In fact, the risks for the players probably began with 6’10” power forwards spending two days ducking down hatches and going up and down ladders just to get to the flight deck.
The night was far from a total loss, and the disappointment was taken extremely well at both venues. At least Georgetown-Florida got 20 minutes in for the military personnel in attendance. Players also mingled with crew and signed autographs long after their respective games were cancelled. And just seeing the various camouflage uniforms worn by the teams was a win. Now if they could had just gotten Buzz Williams to sing Sweet Caroline for the troops (1:24 of this video).
Also, NBC Sports Network also did a very nice halftime feature on the United States Navy’s relationship with the city of Jacksonville. During World War II the city was forced to go dark at night and German U-boats sank a U.S. ship just off the coast, the closest the war got to reaching continental U.S. soil.
It would have been nice if a contingency rain date was in place. Marquette and Ohio State both have games on Sunday, while the setup onboard the USS Bataan was to be quickly taken down as the ship will be underway back to its home port in Norfolk, VA next week.
A third flight deck game was scheduled Friday between Syracuse and San Diego St. onboard the USS Midway, that was postponed due to the forecast in San Diego on Friday. They will attempt to play Sunday afternoon.
A real Bravo Zulu has to be put out for those who organized the Connecticut-Michigan State game which took place inside a hangar at a U.S. Air Force installation in Germany. The game started at midnight local time (6 PM Eastern) and is to be the first of a five-year deal that will see season-opening college games at overseas military bases. I wouldn’t figure the late start time to be an issue on-base, as I’m sure military people are used to getting up during the night to catch their favorites teams on TV and radio via the Armed Forces Network.
Logistically, that seems like a much better way to go to honor and entertain current U.S. military personnel and their families. Navy flight decks are a venue that might be better served by an occasional UFC card than attempting a college hoops game in November.