(Editor’s Note: This article was written and published prior to Chris Mack’s video about the Kentucky-Louisville game)
If we’re being perfectly honest, it feels like a lifetime since we last had a college basketball game. And considering what has happened in the world since March, it has left us all thinking: Man, wouldn’t it be nice to get into a good, old-fashioned basketball argument with someone? It would mean the world is back to normal, and we don’t have to argue over data and statistics and herd immunity and whatever else we’ve spent the last seven months arguing about.
Well credit to Chris Mack. In his yearning to bring a sense of normalcy back to all of our lives, he made quite a few headlines last week with his comments on the Kentucky-Louisville game. To which I ask: Is there honestly anything more normal than Kentucky and Louisville fans fighting over basketball? Not much.
In terms of the details, since everyone reading has already seen and is familiar with the comments, they don’t need much repeating here. But essentially, Mack believes that the very core of the Louisville-Kentucky series should be shaken up this year. With the game slated to be played in Louisville, in Mack’s eyes, it isn’t fair for the Cardinals to play a home game in college basketball’s best rivalry without fans in the stands. Especially since next year’s game at Rupp Arena will almost certainly (or at least hopefully) be played in front of a full house.
Since Mack made those comments, John Calipari has commented not just once, but two different times, including during a media availability on Tuesday. Ironically, Calipari, the man who loves to pick fights with anyone, is basically trying to avoid any kind of confrontation here. He has expected to play the Louisville game along, and despite Mack’s comments still expects to play going forward. As he said in Tuesday’s media availability, a date has already been decided and we know where the game will be played. He plans on bringing his team to Louisville. Now the ball is in Louisville’s court to make it happen.
Therefore, this is one of the few “back and forth” moments in this rivalry where there really isn’t a “back and forth” at all. Chris Mack took something that wasn’t an issue, tried to turn it into an issue and presented it as if there are two sides to the story here. Except there aren’t. At all. And while I have an immense amount of respect for Chris Mack, it’s time to say it: He’s just flat out wrong here. That’s not a knock on him as a person, a coach or on Louisville as a program. It’s just reality.
And before we go any further, I again want to make that last point clear: This isn’t me as a writer, working for a Kentucky-based website trying to do the “Kentucky is always right, Louisville is always wrong thing.” Every circumstance is different and I’ve tried to treat it as such. For starters, while contributing to this website the last few years, I’ve criticized John Calipari plenty. Two, I think I’ve made it clear I have an immense amount of respect for Mack. The day he was hired I wrote a glowing column about Louisville’s decision. I truly believed at the time that he was the right fit for Louisville, and the best possible think to happen to that basketball program. And I still believe it to this day.
At the same time, I just can’t defend him on this one. For so many different reasons.
NEW: I asked Louisville head coach Chris Mack if the Cardinals will face Kentucky this season. His response: pic.twitter.com/p54nrkSCFE
— John Fanta (@John_Fanta) September 23, 2020
First off, if you listen to the original interview that Mack did with Fox’s John Fanta, he begins by comparing the Kentucky-Louisville situation to another that the Cardinals find themselves in. As Mack explains, Louisville is scheduled to play at Cincinnati this coming, 2020-2021 college basketball season at Cincinnati, with a return game in 2021-2022 at Louisville. As Mack says, how is it fair to Cincinnati for Louisville to play in an empty home arena this year, then play in 2021-2022 at the Yum Center?
And while on the surface it makes sense, if you break it down, it really doesn’t. And really, it’s for one simple reason. Umm, did Chris Mack just compare a randomly scheduled home-and-home with Cincinnati to… one of the greatest rivalries in college basketball? One that has been played annually since 1983?
Because I think that’s what happened. Which is utterly preposterous.
That’s because with all due respect to Cincinnati-Louisville, it’s a two-game series. It can be pushed off for a year. Whether it’s played in 2020 and 2021 or 2021 and 2022 it really doesn’t matter. But Kentucky-Louisville? It is a game that two fan-bases, an entire region of the country and college basketball as a whole set their watch to. Plus, back to Cincinnati-Louisville, if that game gets played this season without fans, Cincinnati might never have a chance to play that game again. I’m pretty sure that Louisville will eventually get to play Kentucky again at the Yum Center with fans in the stands. And if they don’t, than we got bigger problems than the Louisville-Kentucky series, people!
Beyond that though, what’s most disappointing is that Mack’s comments kind of run counter to everything that sports has been about the last few months.
What do I mean by that?
Well, when this whole shutdown happened, we all knew that sports would look different upon its return. And it has, with everyone making sacrifices for the good of their respective sports. Say what you want about NBA players, but as the Finals get set to start, those guys have largely been away from their families for three months. College football players have essentially given up their social lives to make sure games get on the field. MLB players will soon enter a bubble for a good chunk of the playoffs as well. The NHL just finished their own bubble on Monday night.
Coaches love to throw out clichés like “Next man up,” “no excuses” and “control what you can control.” Yet Mack isn’t abiding by any of those principles.
Furthermore, does Mack think that he is the only coach who is going to have to sacrifice big home games this year? The Ohio State-Michigan football game is scheduled to be played at the Horseshoe this year, with no fans in the stands. You think Ryan Day is thrilled that he’ll have essentially no home-field advantage, and Michigan will next year? Of course not. Same with Penn State, who has to host Ohio State with no fans. Or Alabama, which will host the Iron Bowl at 25 percent capacity. Or the Los Angeles Lakers who spent six months building the best record in the NBA, only to play the Finals in a bubble.
All those circumstances suck. But you know what? When “not playing at all” is the only other option, you deal with it. Everyone, across all sports has had to make sacrifices upon their return to the field, court or ice.
Does Mack think he is the only one sacrificing anything here? Of course not.
Look, in a perfect world we’d all love to see fans in the stands at the Yum Center for this game, even Kentucky fans. You know how I know that? Because if there were fans in the stands, it would mean the world would be back to normal.
But it isn’t. At least for now. And because of it, we’re all making sacrifices.
That should include Louisville.