Is it too much to ask the Kentucky basketball team to play games close to the University of Kentucky?
I get why John Calipari prefers to schedule neutral site games over home-and-homes. There’s more money to be made at neutral sites and the environment mimics what players will experience in the NCAA Tournament. That logic checks out.
Kentucky’s schedule features at least two of those each year, opening the season with the Champions Classic and celebrating Christmas with the CBS Sports Classic. The destinations have rotated between New York City, Chicago, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Atlanta and Indianapolis. Chicago and Atlanta (vs. Georgia Tech on the day after Thanksgiving) are already on the schedule in 2020-21 and New York will be in the rotation the following year.
For those keeping track at home, Indianapolis is the only city on that list that is a reasonable day’s drive from Lexington. That is why steam rolled out of my ears when I heard Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey say he’s discussed playing their 2021-22 neutral site game against UK at Madison Square Garden.
“We’d love to play in The Garden,” Brey said on the College Hoops Today Podcast. “Cal and I have talked about The Garden. Hopefully, we could pull that off.”
First and foremost, UK already has one game at MSG in 2021-22. That should be enough to eliminate The Garden from contention. Secondly, and most importantly, these games should be played for fans who normally do not get to see the Wildcats in-person.
Once upon a time, I was a young kid who never got to attend Kentucky basketball games. There were two exceptions — exhibitions against Athletes in Action and the annual game at Freedom Hall. One of my favorite childhood Kentucky basketball memories was at Freedom Hall, not Rupp Arena. In 2003 Santa Claus gave my brother and I tickets to watch the Cats take on Austin Peay from about a dozen rows off the court. We arrived an hour early and watched with shock and awe as players dunked in warm-ups. For those watching at home, it probably looked like a boring, easy win. For the kids sitting near the floor, we lost our freaking minds for 40 minutes. The highlight of the night happened when 7-foot-3 Shagari Alleyne clanged a dunk off the back of the rim just before halftime because he jumped too high. It was exhilarating.
Neutral site games were previously scheduled to give a select group of Kentucky fans an opportunity to watch the Wildcats play in-person. Instead of playing in Cincinnati for the Northern Kentucky fans who are living on a budget, UK is flying to the Bahamas for only the wealthiest fans to witness an historic De’Aaron Fox triple-double against Arizona State.
The Kentucky basketball program gives its most fortunate fans multiple opportunities a year to watch the team in America’s biggest cities. In 2022 they’ll be able to watch UK across the pond in London. It’s time UK throws another group of fans a bone by playing at least one of these games at a nearby regional venue.