Carrier Classic set for USS Carl Vinson

SAN DIEGO -- The Navy has given final approval for the Morale Entertainment Foundation to stage the Carrier Classic basketball game between North Carolina and Michigan State on the flight deck of the USS Carl Vinson on Veterans Day.

It will be the first NCAA hoops game on an active flat top.

Rear Admiral Dennis Moynihan, the Navy's chief spokesman, and Mike Whalen, director of the Morale Entertainment Foundation, said the game on 11-11-11 on San Diego Bay will be played without cost to taxpayers and without operational issues that would adversely affect the Navy.

"We think that the game is going to be a celebration of service to all veterans. We're excited about that," Moynihan said Friday.

The Carl Vinson and its sailors have attracted considerable attention since early May, when the carrier was used to bury Osama bin Laden at sea after he was killed by Navy SEALs.

"The USS Carl Vinson is excited to host the game and we're confident we have the right precautions in hand to ensure we'll do this safely," Moynihan said.

Because a game like this has never been played, the Navy had to thoroughly review Morale Entertainment Foundation's plans, including making sure a carrier was available, Moynihan said.

Whalen said there are a number of contingency plans in case of rain or if the Navy needs to quickly deploy the Carl Vinson, which is based at North Island Naval Air Station across the bay from downtown San Diego.

"Obviously the flight deck is where we want to play the game," Whalen said. "If we have to, we can go to the hangar deck."

If the Carl Vinson has to head to sea, other options include playing the game on the USS Midway, which is now a museum berthed on the San Diego side of the bay, or at a college gym.

Whalen said he estimates it will take about 10 days to install the court and temporary stadium seating for approximately 7,000 spectators, and fewer than four days to dismantle it.

"But if the Navy says we've got to go, we'll have all our equipment off the ship in 36 hours from the time the Navy tell us they have an emergency," said Whalen, a former Marine.

"If she needs to go, she'll go," Moynihan said. "We've worked carefully with Morale and we're looking forward to moving forward with this thing."

Whalen inspected the Carl Vinson, USS Ronald Reagan and USS Enterprise during the planning process.

"Literally thousands of man hours have already gone into getting this agreement," he said. "Next year's Carrier Classic, I suspect, will be a lot easier."

Money to hold the game will come from Morale Entertainment Foundation, corporate sponsors and private donors, Whalen said.

The game was the idea of Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis.

"On behalf of all Spartans, we appreciate the opportunity to express our appreciation to those that protect our nation on a daily basis," Hollis said in a statement. "This event is a celebration of the brave individuals and their families. Our hope is that the nation comes together on this day and appreciates the freedom that we enjoy and those that protect our privilege."

North Carolina AD Dick Baddour said the game is a unique way to honor the military.

"It will truly be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the members of our team. It will undoubtedly create memories that they will forever cherish," Baddour said in a statement. "I am thankful to the United States Navy and our colleagues at Michigan State for inviting us to be part of the event."

There will be no public sale of tickets. Most tickets will go to military personnel, with each school getting 750 tickets. Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson are expected to be the honorary team captains.

The game will be shown by ESPN, which also will give 40 minutes of air time to a postgame concert.

Ken Kinnear of Morale Entertainment Foundation said he is approaching acts such as the Eagles, Jimmy Buffett, Bob Seger, Lady Antebellum, Kenny Chesney, Keith Urban and Kid Rock to see if they're interested in performing. He hopes to get between three and five acts.

"This is the most significant and largest live entertainment event that has occurred on Veterans Day and we really believe that it is worthy of some significant talent" Kinnear said.

Don Casey, a former college and NBA coach who lives in the San Diego area, will organize a coaches clinic.