Indiana has its rivalry with Purdue. Kentucky has its mutual disdain for Louisville. But the hatred between the IU and UK fan bases, particularly along the Indiana-Kentucky border, is very real, and a small slice of what makes college basketball great. As a college basketball fan, I'd very much like to see this clash played out at least once a season. I don't ask for much.
Actually, maybe I do. There is a real possibility the Kentucky-Indiana rivalry will peter out, thanks to logistical disagreements between Kentucky coach John Calipari and Indiana coach Tom Crean. Andy blogged about said disagreements Monday morning:
The Kentucky-Indiana series contract is over, and the two sides are discussing renewing. But the two schools are at a major impasse. Indiana coach Tom Crean said Friday that he wants to play the series as a home-and-home. Kentucky coach John Calpari said Friday that he wants it to be a neutral-site game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis with tickets split down the middle. The series was last played at a neutral site in 2005 (prior to meeting in the Sweet 16 in Atlanta). “We can do it in Louisville, Lucas Oil, both teams benefit," Calipari said. Crean rebutted saying, "It's got to be a two-way street, and taking it off campus isn’t anything that people here are excited about or behind."
The game has been played in both varieties before: In the Bobby Knight glory days, the game was frequently played on either campus. Then, from 1991-2005, the schools met at neutral sites in Indianapolis and Louisville. In 2005, an alternating home-and-home-style system was revived, but Calipari is no fan of that system, and it's hard to blame him: Traveling to Indiana to play the Hoosiers is now a far more daunting task than it was during the early days of Crean's rebuild. There are only so many hugely challenging true road games coaches want to put on their team's plates, and the head man in Lexington, Ky. -- one of the savvier schedulers in the country, by the way, and one facing the potential of a newly expanded 18-game SEC conference schedule -- is no different.
In December, Calipari took this quandary to the Big Blue Nation, crowdsourcing his team's schedule and asking UK fans to vote on which of the three current non-conference games they'd miss the least. At the time, he explained the logic:
What I mean by that is this program is too important to over-schedule based on the roster turnover that I believe will continue to happen. You cannot put this program at risk, not with our turnover and roster. You CANNOT over-schedule and put yourself in that position. With that being said, here is where I want the help of the Big Blue Nation. If we had to -- and this doesn’t mean we have to at this point, because we still have 16 league games -- but if we had to drop one series and there were no other options, who would it be? Would it be North Carolina, Indiana or Louisville?
By the end of the voting, Kentucky fans had chosen to ditch Indiana; the Hoosiers garnered a full 69 percent of the vote. The democratic process had weighed its verdict. The people had spoken.
In other words, Calipari isn't going to face a backlash if he doesn't back down on his desire for neutral sites. Nor, for that matter, would Crean. The Hoosiers' schedule is ramped up in 2013, with a neutral-court game against Butler, possible preseason tournament fixtures versus Georgetown and UCLA, what will surely be a big-time matchup in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, plus a potential new series against Kansas. (Kentucky still has the Champions Classic (Duke) and the North Carolina and Louisville events, so it's not like the new-look Wildcats will be hurting for quality nonconference opponents, either.)
But to any fan of college basketball -- particularly big-time nonconference games with meaning beyond their implications on the court -- losing this specific rivalry would be a shame. There are storied and cultural histories involved here. With the possible exception of North Carolina, Indiana and Kentucky are the two most basketball-obsessed states in the union. Even better, they share a border -- a border that includes plenty of die-hard fans of either program. They are bluebloods with rich legacies, legacies that often intersect, and there's something vaguely symbolic -- something about the sport that digs deep at the heart of why it matters so much to so many people -- about what happens when they meet.
And then there's this: In 2012-13, Indiana and Kentucky will be among the best two or three teams in the country, at least according to our early preseason projections. Even if you throw out all the history and tradition and the soft stuff that goes with it, sorry, but come on, guys: That game is too good not to play.
Here's hoping Crean and Calipari can work something out. Neutral court, home-and-home, aircraft carrier (now there's an idea!), whatever. Indiana and Kentucky would be fine without this game, but the rest of us would be awfully bummed out.
When you've got a rivalry this deep, with two teams this good, missing out just seems like a waste.