Last season, John Calipari said Kentucky might need to drop one or two of its traditional rivals to make way for an expanded SEC hoops schedule. Louisville and North Carolina were kicked around as possibilities. But it’s the Wildcats’ rivalry with Indiana that’s in the most danger of going bye-bye.
Calipari — if the series is to be continued — wants to see it played at neutral sites. Long a fan of getting his programs into new areas for publicity and recruiting purposes, UK’s coach believes the schools should square off in Louisville or Indianapolis each year. And that’s exactly how the rivalry survived from 1991 through 2006.
But prior to ’91 and since ’06, the two basketball Goliaths have waged their wars on campus. And that is the route IU coach Tom Crean favors moving forward.
Both coaches have their own best interests at heart, of course. Crean knows that Kentucky under Calipari will likely remain an NBA-lite type of program. Better to face them with a homecourt advantage every other year.
Calipari knows that putting the games on neutral courts will drive up television interest in the game… not that the Cats are short on exposure as things currently stand. Also, if you’ve got the heavyweight program, why go into the other guy’s gym at all? Remember, UK had two losses last season. One came in the finals of the SEC Tournament to Vanderbilt. The other came in December at Assembly Hall in Bloomington. Not only did the 73-72 last-second loss sting, but some IU fans were so rowdy storming the court afterward that the school’s athletic director actually apologized for the behavior that left at least one person injured.
For now, the two coaches continue to their back and forth via ESPN’s Andy Katz. Calipari told him, “We can do it in Louisville, Lucas Oil (Stadium in Indianapolis), both teams benefit.” Crean responded by saying, “It’s got to be a two-way street and taking it off campus isn’t anything that people here are excited about or behind.”
Okay, we’ll take a shot at playing King Solomon here. Why don’t both programs and coaches give a bit on this one? Just marry the two desires.
Over a four-year span, the UK-IU series could be played at Lexington, then Bloomington, then Louisville, and then in Indianapolis. Then the rotation could begin anew. It’s not rocket science here, folks.
If Kentucky and Indiana and their respective coaches are truly interested in continuing their annual bloodletting, then both parties should give some ground in order to make that happen. If they won’t, then it becomes obvious that either Indiana is scared to play the Wildcats on a neutral site every single year… or Kentucky is scared to face the Hoosiers on the road every other year.
Yeah, that’s right, Coaches. We called ya scared. Now compromise already and keep a good thing going.