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Monday, May 7, 2012
Calipari explains scheduling to fans

By Eamonn Brennan

The Indiana-Kentucky rivalry is dead. That's sad.

Fans of both programs don't agree on much, including the various reasons given as to why the series had to end, but in general this would seem to be one of the few things on which IU and UK fans could assemble a quorum. Indiana-Kentucky, an ongoing series since 1969, was just about to get really, really good -- a longstanding baked-in blueblood regional rivalry with the boost of massive 2012-13 on-court implications -- just before the two programs pulled the plug.

The essential disagreement boiled down to venue. Kentucky coach John Calipari wanted the games at neutral sites, like Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, while Indiana coach Tom Crean wanted the game -- including this year's would-be fixture at UK's own Rupp Arena -- to remain on both programs' campuses. There are plenty of reasons both coaches stuck to their guns: Crean wanted the student atmosphere in Assembly Hall, and didn't want to grant Calipari a huge recruiting audience in Indianapolis every other season, among others. Calipari, as is usually the case, is more than happy to explain his motivations. He did so to Andy Katz during the White House visit, telling Katz that Kentucky was looking to schedule more and more like Duke -- i.e., fewer true nonconference road games, more emphasis on neutral courts -- in the coming seasons.

Calipari expanded on that view in a blog post on his own web site Sunday. In "Forming a nontraditional schedule for a nontraditional program," Calipari tells fans "We are going by our own model now: the gold standard. Everyone has to accept that," before outlining his reasons for the shift. They are mostly what you'd expect. Calipari highlights the lack of true road games in the postseason, and thus the lack of need for them in the nonconference schedule, as well as the ability to sell more tickets to UK fans that "can't afford to get into Rupp" and the opportunity for the school to bring in more money for its athletics programs from neutral-court contracts.

He closes somewhat defensively, telling people to look at other programs' schedules (Duke, Indiana, North Carolina, Kansas, Louisville), again naming his own program "nontraditional," and assuring everyone that he isn't backing down from any challenges:
When I was at UMass, I saw what John Chaney and Temple were doing and adopted the motto “any team, any place, any time.” My last year at UMass, we played 10 home games and 27 games away from home, and I carried that over to Memphis.

What, have I changed over the years? Do I get nervous in big games? Come on, it has nothing to do with that. I’ll play teams on I-64. We’ll close it down. I’m good with that. But this program is not traditional. This program is in a position right now that we must protect as we march forward to try to grow it to another level.

All of which is fair enough, I suppose. Calipari has legitimate reasons why the Indiana game couldn't work out; he's dealing with an expanded SEC schedule to boot. He's doing the smart thing here: He's taking on Duke's model. But the Duke model, effective though it may be, doesn't exactly get anyone excited about the sport in November and December. And make no mistake: The Duke model is not "any team, any place, any time." It is in fact the direct antithesis of that motto. It relies on a position of power and influence -- one Kentucky has long wielded, but now more than ever -- and the ability to eschew major early-season road challenges wherever possible. With so many freshmen coming in every season, this style is arguably even more beneficial.

So, in the end, it's hard to blame Calipari -- just as it is hard to blame Crean for his bargaining position -- for making the shift. He has Kentucky's interests to protect. He has a new roster, and will probably have one each and every season, and he has to account for that. But none of that changes the fact that the quirks of scheduling have robbed America's college basketball fans of one of the biggest and best potential games the 2012-13 season could have offered.

No matter how rational the reasons behind it, it remains a shame. Man, that Rupp Arena crowd would have been rocking. At the end of the day, if it was important enough to both sides, this game would have been on the schedule. That it's not says as much about the state of college hoops -- and the often feckless scheduling tropes that dominate it -- as it does about Calipari or Crean.