- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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If you are a season ticket-holder for Kentucky basketball at Rupp Arena, well, hopefully you're happy paying for SEC games.
Kentucky released its 2012-13 nonconference schedule Tuesday, and the first thought that came to my mind was empathy for any UK fan hoping to see anything resembling last season's home dates with Louisville and North Carolina. The only thing close in the coming season will be Baylor's trip to Lexington on Dec. 1.
Other than that, Kentucky's home nonconference schedule comprises Northwood and Transylvania in exhibitions, the season-opener against Lafayette on November 16, and then Morehead State, Long Island, Samford, Portland, Lipscomb, Marshall, and Eastern Michigan. No offense to any of those programs, but that is not exactly a murderer's row of home dates -- especially considering that Kentucky is the reigning national champion and a likely preseason top-three team in 2012-13. To be frank, that schedule is weak.
Of course, that's not Kentucky's whole schedule. John Calipari's team will play Duke and Maryland on neutral courts, and will travel to Notre Dame (as part of the Big East-SEC Challenge) and Louisville (as part of arguably the most heated hoops rivalry in America). The home schedule is also a victim of timing: Kentucky and North Carolina are taking a one-year series siesta, set to resume in 2013-14, which will give the Wildcats at least one home game against either Louisville or North Carolina every season.
So it's not as if Calipari and Co. aren't going to play any good teams in the nonconference schedule. Of course they are. It's just that none of those games (save Baylor) will be played in the nexus of Big Blue Nation, in front of Kentucky's home fans and season-ticket holders, all of whom were asked to pay higher prices for tickets this season. If I'm one of those fans, I'm a little peeved.
But as Gary Parrish writes today, it's not as if those fans are suddenly going to protest Kentucky basketball. Kentucky fans are as intense as fans get, and they'll pack Rupp whether the opponent is Louisville or Morehead State. Calipari knows this, which is why he can afford to schedule the way he wants to schedule (and it's not as if the home schedule is that much worse than in 2010). This is part and parcel with Calipari's "non-traditional" scheduling strategy. He knows he has the home fans as a baseline, which means he can maximize each game's value by scheduling big marquee events on neutral courts as the bulk of Kentucky's high-end nonconference schedule.
Does it make sense? Sure. Does it leave you cold? It might. I'm not a Kentucky season ticket-holder, but if I were, I can't imagine I'd be too thrilled with my big Morehead State and Long Island dates. People want to see big games in their own gym, the kind of games they can spend all day gearing up for before letting loose half an hour before tip-off. That's part and parcel with the experience of attending (or having attended) a major basketball school. It's about galvanizing events. In 2012-13, UK fans won't have one of those events. Save, you know, Baylor.
Then again, if I was a Kentucky season ticket-holder, that would mean my favorite team just won the national title in April. Really, how much can you complain?