- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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Yes, yes, it's what you've all been waiting for: More Indiana-Kentucky drama. Fun! (And by fun I mean: tedious!)
The Indiana-Kentucky rivalry -- which has been played every year since 1969 -- has been more or less dead since the start of the month. You know the story by now: Tom Crean wanted to continue the current home-and-home format, in place since 2005, while John Calipari wanted to schedule the games on a neutral court, their home from 1991 to 2005. Kentucky is adjusting to its new "nontraditional" scheduling strategy, and Calipari later revealed that strategy to mean, in essence, lots of neutral-court games at future NCAA tournament venues, lots of big buzzy events, a potential series with Duke, and nothing that isn't 100 percent in Kentucky's best interest.
That was supposed to be the end of it. Not so much.
Thanks to a public records request, the Bloomington Herald-Times reported Wednesday that Indiana athletic director Fred Glass in fact reopened negotiations with Kentucky on May 10. He did so with a compromise -- a four-year contract including two years at neutral sites and two years back on campus -- starting with two years at Lucas Oil Stadium in 2012 and 2013, followed by a year at Rupp Arena and a year at Assembly Hall:
"We were trying to find something that worked well for everyone,” Glass told the Herald-Times. “That was a suggestion that a number of people had written in to me had made. That four-year plan struck me as a fairly good idea. We reached out in the spirit of compromise to save the series and to save the ability for our students to see at least one Indiana-Kentucky game on campus in their tenure.”
According to Glass, the letter reignited the discussion between the schools, and he spoke with Kentucky AD Mitch Barnhart and other administrators on both sides in a conference call about the idea. This was before Calipari released last week's aforementioned blog post, which detailed a variety of plans, including a new series with Duke, the 2013 Cowboys Stadium event versus Baylor, a continuation of the series with North Carolina after a break in 2012-13 and an ongoing commitment to the four-team Champions Classic. That's a full plate, and that's where the Indiana-Kentucky negotiations -- if you can even call them that -- again broke down:
Glass said he called Barnhart to find out if that meant that negotiations were off. According to the letter, IU director of basketball operations Jayd Grossman received a call from Kentucky executive associate athletics director DeWayne Peevy saying that Kentucky would refuse a contract lasting more than two years.
“In other words,” Glass said in the letter, “we were back to Kentucky’s take it or leave it demand that we play on a neutral court with no opportunities to play on our campuses in front of our students and other season ticket-holders.”
Sadly, this is not at all surprising. Indeed, it is in keeping with the strategy Calipari has pretty clearly outlined for Kentucky in the coming seasons: He does not want to schedule contracts longer than two years under any circumstances. That includes North Carolina, Louisville and presumably every other school in talks to play Kentucky in the next few seasons.
Why? Because being "nontraditional" means recruiting so well, and turning over so often, you never really know who's going to be on your roster. Calipari doesn't want to make four-year commitments, because he doesn't know what his team will look like in four years. The Hoosiers -- whom he is clearly ambivalent about anyway -- are no different.
You can practically feel the frustration seeping out of Bloomington, where this game remains, or remained, a high priority even after the initial talks broke down in early May. And you have to hand it to them for the attempt at compromise. All in all, it's a pretty good compromise! Thing is, Calipari doesn't compromise. He never has. Coming off his first national title, riding a wave of unquestioning fan support rarely seen this side of Nick Saban (ROLL TAHDE), he has decided that he's not about to start now.
Unfortunately, as I've argued before, what's good for Kentucky or Indiana specifically -- or what the schools perceive that to be -- is not always what's good for the game of college hoops at large. A yearly rivalry with Indiana, with both programs in top form, would have been great for the sport. And, you could argue, just as good for Kentucky.
Calipari doesn't care. That's his prerogative. But that's a pretty disappointing prerogative.
In any case, good news: Kentucky will use the spot it saves from not playing one of its traditional rivals on a neutral-court, NCAA tournament and Final Four atmosphere. Which, if I'm understanding the man's logic correctly ...
"We would have won the 2011 national championship,'' Calipari said. "I'm convinced of it. Would you rather I play games home-and-home or get this team ready for the NCAA tournament? You can't tell me to do both. It's one or the other.''
... means Kentucky will be winning the national championship every year, forever. It's just that easy! Right.