On Thursday, the college basketball conversation which is constantly discussed, but never resolved was once again brought to the forefront.
That conversation? On a conference call of SEC coaches, John Calipari was once again asked about the possibility of Kentucky playing former rival Indiana on the basketball court. And he once again shot it down, re-hashing the same explanation he has for years.
As Calipari explained, after the court-storming that occurred following Indiana’s win at Assembly Hall during the 2011-2012 season, Calipari vowed to never play in that arena again. Instead, years ago he proposed a two-game series to be played on a neutral court, at the new Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Presumably tickets would be split 50/50 down the middle, with half the fans wearing Kentucky blue and the other half Indiana red.
“What I did was — here’s what you’ve got to understand,” Calipari told reporters on Thursday. “When we first decided, I presented to Indiana that we would play two games in the big building in Indianapolis. Two games, we’ll play them both there. We’re not going to do this home-and-home but I’ll play both games there. They turned that down, which then, at that point, okay, we’re moving on because I can’t present anything that’s any better.”
Unfortunately, as Calipari said, Indiana didn’t have interest at the time, and it doesn’t appear Indiana has any interest now.
And honestly, that’s a shame. As someone who isn’t a fan of either program but loves the spectacle that is college basketball, it’s disappointing we won’t get this matchup.
Now to be clear, I kind of understand why there is stalemate on both sides, especially Kentucky’s. Calipari was legitimately unhappy with the behavior of Indiana fans following that 2011-2012 game, and if there’s one thing we’ve learned about Calipari, you don’t cross him or his kids. Meanwhile from the perspective of a Kentucky fan, it doesn’t even feel like there’s much of a clamor for this game. When you can play Duke or Michigan State every year in the Champions Classic, North Carolina or UCLA in the CBS Sports Classic, Kansas in the Big 12-SEC Challenge, plus Louisville, there really is no need for an additional marquee game. No matter how awesome it would be.
And from Indiana’s perspective, I guess I kind of get it too. The Hoosiers already play one neutral court game every season Indianapolis, the Crossroads Classic, and playing another one might upset their season-ticket holders at Assembly Hall. There is also a pre-scheduled matchup in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge every year. Depending on how the Hoosiers are projected, that can be against a big, name-brand school (last year it was Duke). Also, there are now 20 Big Ten games on the schedule. Like Kentucky, it’s not as though the Hoosiers need another big game on the schedule.
Still, there is only so much that most random Big Ten games can do to excite a fan-base (are Iowa, Northwestern or Nebraska really moving the needle?). Same with a Big Ten-ACC Challenge game that is hit or miss depending on the year. But a big, nationally televised, neutral court game against a historic rival that you can set your watch to every single season? From strictly a branding and awareness perspective, Indiana is missing a heck of an opportunity here.
And that’s the big element that no one is talking about.
Now look, this isn’t a knock on Indiana, but let’s be honest here. I know the program has an incredible history of success. But from a national relevance perspective, they’ve fallen waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay down the totem-pole. From a branding and awareness standpoint, they aren’t just behind other traditional powers like Kentucky, Kansas, Duke and North Carolina. I’d argue they’re behind many others as well, ranging from obvious places like Arizona, Louisville and Michigan State, to newly emerging powers Virginia and Villanova, and even some schools that might not immediately jump to mind like Gonzaga.
Seriously, I think if you have ask the average fan, they have more of an opinion on Gonzaga than they do Indiana. Yes, a private school in Spokane, Washington with 7,000 undergrads moves the needle more right now than Indiana. Don’t at me Hoosiers fans, it’s true. Indiana just doesn’t matter nationally. Outside the candy-striped pants, and that 10-minute window where we thought Romeo Langford would make a difference, there really hasn’t been much reason to pay attention to the Hoosiers of late.
Now to be clear, one game against Kentucky every season wouldn’t completely change or heighten Indiana’s brand.
But man, it also wouldn’t hurt either.
Let’s just think about it from a logical and level-headed place. I think we can all agree that from Indiana’s perspective, playing Kentucky, even on a neutral court, does more for the excitement of the fan-base than a home game against Chicago State, Montana State or Cal-Davis. And I’d argue that while playing Kentucky in a traditional home-and-home series is a step in the right direction, it wouldn’t have the impact that the proposed, neutral site game.
Just think about it. Put aside personal feelings of a home-and-home, and think about Indiana and Kentucky playing in front of 40,000 fans, in a football stadium, half wearing blue, half wearing red. That isn’t just a college basketball game my friends. That is a spectacle. That is an event. A moment in time where downtown Indianapolis becomes the center of the college basketball world, in a way that it simply wouldn’t be if the game was played at Rupp Arena or Assembly Hall.
Seriously, just look at the video below (and put aside the blurry, 1980’s standard definition). How sweet are the aesthetics of seeing 40,000 people in a football stadium to watch a basketball game? Now imagine that in modern HD TV? Imagine the 40,000 people pouring out into the streets of Indianapolis after the game.
And with that in mind, can someone explain why exactly that would be bad for Indiana basketball? Yeah, you lose a home game. But you also gain a massive stage. You gain a game that can unite the fan-base in ways a home game couldn’t. Fans in Indianapolis that can’t get down to Bloomington can attend this game. Because it’s in a football stadium, fans who can’t afford tickets in Assembly Hall can get in for an affordable price.
Not to mention the recruiting uptick. Look, don’t get me wrong, I know that every kid in Indiana grows up dreaming of playing Cal-Davis and Chicago State. BUT, in an era where Archie Miller is trying to lock down his borders, can you imagine the sales pitch. “Hey, come to Indiana. Play in front of 40,000 people, the largest crowd that will watch a basketball game all season until the Final Four. Come do it against a local rival, and defend our state border, and make the entire state proud.”
Or, the alternative pitch.
“Come play against… Chicago State. That’ll be fun!”
Again, what am I missing?? This is a no-brainer!!!!!
Although apparently, I am in fact missing something, since at the end of the day, Indiana has decided they aren’t interested in the game.
A game which would be good for the program, good for the school, good for the state and good for college basketball.
Shame on Indiana. What a wasted opportunity.