- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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This week, yours truly wondered whether the Indiana-Kentucky rivalry -- a matchup of two blueblood programs, two rabid adjacent fan bases, and what appear to be two of the nation's best three teams in 2012-13 -- could continue in the short term. The issue was logistical. Indiana wanted to renew a home-and-home series, with both teams playing on campus; Kentucky preferred to play in neutral sites, like Indianapolis and Louisville, instead.
But the game has been played every year since 1969. Surely these two programs and their friendly coaches, Tom Crean and John Calipari, would come up with something that could keep this game alive in 2012-13.
Today, we have that answer. It's a big fat whopping "nope."
Per a statement released by the IU athletic department, the Hoosiers "will not sign a new contract to play the University of Kentucky in men’s basketball next season in light of their insistence that the matchup be moved to off-campus sites."
“While we understand that such neutral-site games could be quite lucrative, we think the series should be continued as it is, home and home,” Indiana athletic director Fred Glass said. “Playing on campus enables our students to attend these marquee games, which we believe is a great component of the overall college experience. Playing in the historic venues that are Assembly Hall and Rupp Arena is also a tremendous experience for our student-athletes.”
“We have a strong belief that this series should be played on campus, and is something that should be beneficial for both teams," Crean said.
Rest assured, even minutes after the announcement, the rush to spin this has already begun. Kentucky fans will say Indiana is afraid to play the Wildcats outside Assembly Hall; Hoosiers fans will say Kentucky is afraid to come to Bloomington after suffering one of its two losses of the 2011-12 season there last December. Blame will be assigned; names will be called. I'd imagine the comments to this post will be fairly hilarious.
Who's really to blame? Both parties, really. This is an impasse, it takes two to tango, etc. But it doesn't really matter whom you wish to blame, because the result is twofold:
1. We lose one of the great nonconference rivalries in the sport, which features the two storied, flagship, blueblood programs from the nation's two most basketball-obsessed states, states which just so happen to share a border.
2. We lose what could very well be the biggest nonconference matchup of the 2012-13 season, a meeting of two teams sure to be ranked in the top three in every preseason poll, of two programs hunting a national title.
Indiana-Kentucky hasn't always been a marquee event in the past decade, but both programs are back at the top of the heap, and this is as marquee as they come right now. How could this end now? It's almost like we waited until IU-UK could get really, really good again -- until the stakes and quality of play reached potentially epic levels -- to call the whole thing off. College basketball fans are being robbed. It's a shame.
And so next season, for the first time in more than 40 years, Indiana and Kentucky will not meet on the court. Why? Scheduling quirks, logistical preferences, RPI calculations, artful (and inartful) dodges.
Coaches Crean and Calipari, sirs, this is as weak as it gets. Maybe you don't care, but we do. It's weak. Fix it, and soon. You're taking a great game away from the rest of us, and we want it back.
Update: And just when you thought this thing couldn't seem pettier, here's what Calipari and Crean said to our own Andy Katz Thursday afternoon. First, Calipari:
"We're not going to play," Kentucky coach John Calipari said Thursday. "We're not going to do a home-and-home. That's out. 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 said. "That means they don't want to play us."
Indiana coach Tom Crean said in a text message that the Hoosiers never wanted to move the game.
"We couldn't have gotten our students up there," said Crean. "Prices would have been too much to get them there. We will have around 8,500 students.
"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."
There is probably some truth and some deceit in both of those spin moves. It is a hard task to get 8,500 students to Indianapolis, sure, but maybe 8,500 students don't need to go to Indianapolis for the game? Maybe the students that can make the 45-minute drive north can go, and other fans can have the rest of those tickets? Just a thought.
Still, Calipari's response is particularly grating. "That means they don't want to play us." Nah nah, boo boo, you guys are obviously scared, I'm taking my ball and going home. He's wrong, of course. The 2012-13 Indiana-Kentucky matchup, were it renewed as a home-and-home, would be played at Rupp Arena. Crean is OK with that. Why isn't Calipari?
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.
Anyway: Ugh. The whole thing is childish and boorish and petty and low, and I'm somehow even more disgusted than before. Be adults. Figure it out. Play the game. These fans deserve better than to be treated like this.
Update No. 2: Here's a 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.”