I just nuked about 800 words I had written previously about this subject, because so much has happened in the six hours since I wrote the original post. When I say "so much," I mean so much silliness that it really requires some adult to come in and ask everybody to calm down and take a breath.
In what is becoming one of the more breathless memes since the Bo Ryan scandal, the college basketball commentariat from the major networks are all repeating two very silly talking points:
- Calipari really doesn't want to play Indiana because they are going to be so good and;
- Crean is fighting so hard for home court advantage because he doesn't think he can win enough in neutral arenas.
I'll give you three examples. First, Jeff Eisenberg of Yahoo:
Is it a coincidence Kentucky no longer wants to go to Bloomington the year after Crean's Hoosiers upset the Wildcats in front of maybe the most raucous crowd in all of college basketball last season? With Indiana back among the elite again, it certainly won't be as easy for Kentucky to continue its recent dominance in the series if it has to play in that charged-up atmosphere once every two years.
On the other hand, Crean's motivation is likely no less selfish. Indiana won 18 of 19 games at Assembly Hall last season including upsets against top-five Kentucky and Ohio State, so having the series be home-and-home helps level the playing field with the Wildcats in case there are years when the Hoosiers are at a talent disadvantage again.
Now, we have Rob Dauster of NBC Sports:
Can you blame Kentucky?
Indiana is one of the best teams in the country heading into the 2012-2013 season and coming off of a year where they won 18 of 19 games at Assembly Hall. Why would Kentucky opt to play in that gym? Why would they want to enter that environment? With an expanded conference schedule (18 games), non-conference games against North Carolina and Louisville and a spot in the Champions Classic event, do the Wildcats really need another tough road game?
And while Kentucky is the one that comes out looking selfish in this situation, keep in mind that the reason that Crean wants to keep the games being played on campus is the precise reason that Coach Cal doesn’t: Indiana is a dangerous team in front of their own fans. Why would Crean make the decision to give up that home court advantage against a rival?
There is also this silly babble from Gary Parrish with the same theme:
The same could be for the Indiana-Kentucky rivalry, which has gone on uninterrupted since the late '60s and been around since the early '20s. Now the schools are in a standoff. Kentucky doesn't want to travel to Bloomington anymore. It has every other year since 2006, and did so from '69 to '91, but Kentucky's a lot better now than it was five years ago -- and so is Indiana. That's the point ... I guess? Since the Hoosiers are no longer a pushover, the Wildcats aren't too keen on marching up I-65 and breaking west over to Bloomington for the foreseeable future.
Okay, let's start with Eisenberg. Neither Calipari nor Crean are afraid of the consequences of the game. Calipari isn't enthusiastic about the series for personal reasons -- he doesn't like to play against his friend, Tom Crean. This has been a recurring line of commentary for Calipari, and I believe him when he says it.
For Crean's part, the idea that he's afraid to play Kentucky at neutral sites without the benefit of a home game is just nonsense. Crean and Calipari have diametrically opposed agendas driving their respective positions. Indiana fans and boosters don't want the games moved to neutral sites, and that is reflected in Crean's position. Kentucky fans, boosters, and athletics department are all still raw about how badly UK fans attending the Bloomington game were treated, including reckless behavior that resulted in one high-profile injury and many complaints of serious, vulgar, verbal abuse. It was so bad that the Indiana University Director of Athletics, Fred Glass, felt compelled to issue an apology for IU fan behavior. Somehow, both Eisenberg and Dauster failed to find that fact significant enough to mention.
Moving on to Dauster, apparently he forgot that UK would be playing IU down in Rupp Arena in 2012-13 if the home and home were renewed, so his comment about Calipari fearing the match up on that basis is just in error. However, I don't even agree with that premise if it were true.
Secondly, can somebody please tell me how Kentucky is the one who comes off looking selfish, as Dauster suggests? The series was played at neutral sites from 1991-2005 to great effect and national accolades. The only reason it got moved back to home and home was because the University of Louisville flexed its muscles one year and made holding the game at Freedom Hall, where it alternated with the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, impossible. Why was it then renewed as home and home? Probably a combination of Indiana wanting it that way and Kentucky fearing another Louisville muscle-flexing, which is no longer a problem for Freedom Hall.
Finally, Parrish's comments are similar enough to the other two that they don't need exposition. It's just nonsense to suggest Kentucky wants to move the series out of fear they might lose.
I have been, and always will be a huge proponent of this game, but based on the affairs in Bloomington this year, I think it should be returned to neutral sites. Kentucky has a legitimate gripe coming, much as Indiana probably did when the Freedom Hall game had to be moved. In my view, it's their turn to give in. I want to see the game renewed, but I have become hardened in my position for neutral sites. What IU fans did this last year was amongst the worst behavior I have heard of in a while, and I think safety is now a legitimate concern for both fan bases.
Mr. SEC has suggested a compromise that puts the series at home for two seasons, and at neutral sites for two seasons. I have a better one -- a four year neutral site series with a return to home and home on the next four-year contract agreed to in advance. That way we allow the series time to become classy again, at which point home and home becomes doable, if IU still prefers it. My feeling is that the increased revenue from neutral sites would probably change their mind, but maybe not.
Finally, I think everybody should just calm down and let events develop and stop the hyperventilation. If the series goes on hiatus for a year or two, so what? Life goes on. As the old saying goes, absence makes the heart grow fonder. That's happened a couple of times with the UK-UNC series. Yeah, I want to see the IU series continue, but as a Kentucky fan, I have a beef, and I'm willing to take a break, if that's what it takes, and give the Hoosiers time learn a little respect for their opponent as well as UK fans a chance to cool off. The last thing I want is for Kentucky fans to try to outdo Hoosier fans next year in Rupp Arena.
We've seen what happens when rivalries get overheated, and we don't want to see an encore no matter how compelling the story is. I say, nip it in the bud.