After months of behind-the-scenes bickering over how they would continue one of the best series in college basketball, Kentucky and Indiana have called it quits.
The decision comes just months after the Wildcats and Hoosiers played two of the most memorable games of the 2011-12 season, one in Bloomington won by Indiana and one in the Sweet 16 Round of the NCAA Tournament in Atlanta, won by eventual national champion Kentucky.
Let the spin game by both athletic departments and fan bases begin, because the reason for the rift could involve those very game outcomes of this past year. Indiana wants a home-and-home setup, which may have benefited them this past year in Bloomington; Kentucky wants to play at a neutral site, which may have benefited them in Atlanta.
Kentucky does not want to continue the home-and-home setup the teams have played since 2006, preferring instead a neutral court scenario similar to the one the teams employed from 1991 to 2005. Back then the game alternated between Freedom Hall in Louisville, KY and the Hoosier/RCA Dome in Indianapolis.
Kentucky was reportedly prepared to play all games in Indianapolis at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“We’re not going to do a home-and-home. That’s out,” said Kentucky head coach John Calipari. “They don’t want to play two games in the state of Indiana, which I’m fine with. There are a lot of people who want to play us.”
“We were willing to play them both in the state of Indiana and they said no to that,” Calipari added. “That means they don’t want to play us.”
Indiana athletic director Fred Glass spun the issue in his school’s direction.
“In the final analysis, we want our student-athletes, our overall student body and our season-ticket holders to enjoy this series at Assembly Hall,” Glass said. “The bottom line is that they didn’t want to play home-and-home and we did. We looked at it hard but it belongs on campus.”
Here is the full statement from Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart:
“We are extremely disappointed in Indiana’s decision to end our annual men’s basketball series. We were under the impression that we were in continued negotiations with Indiana University on signing a two-year contract to play the annual game at neutral sites. After the NCAA Championships, both schools verbally agreed in principle to play for two years at neutral sites (December 8, 2012 and December 7 or 14, 2013) and agreed to revisit campus sites upon completion of the two-year deal. The public comments by Indiana prior to today over the last week led us to believe that our previous verbal agreement could be in jeopardy, but at no point did we ever have any mutual discussions with Indiana to end the series.
“We were contacted by Indiana today shortly before 2 p.m. ET and informed that due to our desire to move to neutral sites they were moving on for the 2012-13 season and would revisit continuing the series at a later date. Our desire to play the series at a neutral site was due mainly to the success of the series from 1992-2006. It allowed the fans of both schools to enjoy the experience of one of the greatest rivalries every year. Everyone that watched or attended those games said it was a great atmosphere for college basketball. We looked at this as an opportunity to recapture that atmosphere and unfortunately it ended today.”
Disagreements aside, the particularly puzzling aspect of this situation is the schools’ inability to sign at least a one-year extension to the series rivalry. Next year’s game would have been played in Lexington, and surely Calipari wouldn’t have minded having a shot at a highly ranked team in Rupp Arena. Then they could have revisited the conversation next year. ESPN blogger Eamonn Brennan made an interesting point, though:
It has a lot to do with recruiting, no doubt; Calipari wouldn’t mind playing two games in Indianapolis because that’s where the Indianapolis recruits are. If he can avoid returning to Assembly Hall in the process, all the better.
So suffice it to say that there’s a good chance money and politics were involved in the end of one of the greatest rivalries in college sports. It is especially sad because the matchup was just starting to find its intrigue again. Indiana is one of the favorites to be preseason No. 1 and Kentucky should be highly ranked with another blue-chip recruiting class coming in to defend a national title.
Jeff LeJeune writes on a broad spectrum of topics, from spirituality to sports to synchronicity and synergy, while trying hard to smile a little more at it all. Visit JeffLeJeune.com and follow on Twitter @JeffLeJeune.