It was a grand idea, and for one night, it lived up to the dream.
The first-ever Carrier Classic managed to be all things at once -- simultaneously a somber, Presidential-level celebration of America's armed forces and a quirky, eyeball-attracting stunt. It was exactly what the historically limp open to the college basketball season needed in 2011, the kind of thing that makes the casual fan sit up and take notice, but it was also more than that. When the Pacific sun went down and the lights went up ... I mean, has college basketball ever been played in a more beautiful setting?
No wonder we all wanted to go back for seconds. In 2012, when the Carrier Classic idea was renewed, it wasn't alone. Not only would San Diego State and Syracuse reprise North Carolina-Michigan State aboard the USS Midway, Florida and Georgetown would play off the coast of Jacksonville aboard the USS Bataan while Ohio State took on Marquette on the USS Yorktown outside Charleston, S.C. What was once a moon-shot idea was now a bonafide trend. College basketball was welding its annual November launch to the side of large warships, logistical complications be damned.
We all know what happened next. Logistics -- namely the weather -- won. As it turns out, it is quite difficult to play basketball aboard aircraft carriers docked at sea. Because, you know, water. Thanks to various treacherous forms of condensation, which tend to make hardwood basketball floors rather unsafe, San Diego State-Syracuse had to be postponed while Ohio State-Marquette and Florida-Georgetown were cancelled. Concerns about player safety were raised, and rightfully so. My colleague Myron Medcalf said it was time for college basketball to get off the boat.
A few months later, everyone is officially off said boat. Following this week's announcement of Oregon and Georgetown's plans to play in the second annual Armed Forces Classic, one couldn't help but notice the fact that no aircraft carrier games had been announced. Yahoo!'s Jeff Eisenberg asked Morale Entertainment (which organized the first Carrier Classic) and officials representing the USS Yorktown and USS Midway about the lack of plans, and all of them confirmed they are not planning aircraft carrier games in 2013:
"Hosting the SDSU-Syracuse game last year was a huge source of pride for both the USS Midway Museum and San Diego," USS Midway Museum marketing director Scott McGaugh said. "We also experienced firsthand the logistical challenges and oceanfront weather variables that make the concept difficult to reliably execute. So we've decided to take a year and evaluate various options based on our first year's experience."
At this late date, with most teams' schedules nearing completion, it would take a drastic last-minute moon-shot to get another aircraft carrier game in under the wire. In other words: It isn't happening.
This is not a bad thing. Sure, the original Carrier Classic was awesome, and I will always be the first person to support any combination of "basketball" and "hilariously large displays of U.S. military strength." But even the first carrier game, as beautiful as it was, suffered its fair share of hitches, too. In any case, college basketball's first week is in profoundly better shape than it was when the Carrier idea was first hatched. We have the tip-off marathon, the Champions Classic, and the aforementioned Armed Forces Classic, which preserves the benefits of playing in front of our men and women in uniform at a far-flung military base while also allowing the basketball to be played indoors, the way god and/or James Naismith intended it. Early season gimmicks are all well and good, but gimmicks shouldn't define the sport, either. If you want to build a lasting audience, thrilling basketball is more important than any setting could ever be.
After last year's unmitigated disaster, there will not be many tears shed over the loss of aircraft carrier games. That's OK with me. The dream was real for one night, but maybe it should have stopped there. Real life always gets in the way.