Kentucky Wildcats Basketball: Coach Cal's "Experiences"

Bring on the domes!

Last week, John Calipari came out with an article on his website discussing how he views scheduling. I hadn't had a chance to comment on this yet, but I do now. Here goes.

Calipari leads off with this:

When we schedule, I want to create experiences, not just games. The thing about Kentucky basketball is it’s passed down from father to son. I want to schedule events that grandfathers and grandsons will be talking about 25 years from now.

I know what the coach is talking about here, but I have to say that to me, this whole "experiences" concept is something he could have done without. It comes off as fake to me, and I have something very recent with which to compare it -- the New Orleans Final Four.

If there were ever such a thing as an "experience," that was it, but I don't think that it needs to be puffed up by marketing talk. It was four three great basketball games in a great city. There was also a whole event surrounding it, with lots of comings and goings, famous people, an ancient and famous U.S. city (to the extent any U.S. city can be called "ancient"), and all the trappings of a great event. I'll remember it forever, but I'll never refer to it as an "experience" except in the most generic macro sense. It was four great ball games in a great city. That's what it was.

None of the games currently under discussion could even hold a candle to that Final Four. UK played Louisville and Kansas, one our arch-foe and the other one of the few programs considered to be a peer of Kentucky. The only thing that could beat that is some combination of Louisville, Indiana, Duke, or North Carolina. In other words, making a greater "experience" than the last Final Four is only marginally possible, and highly subjective.

My point here is that labeling these early-season games as "experiences" is pure, transparent puffery. But then again, Coach Cal is an expert at this sort of thing -- perhaps my opinion is in the minority. If he thinks it will help to call them "experiences," well, I guess that's fine, even it if it provokes a wry face from me.

Concerning UNC:

We are adding North Carolina back to the schedule for the 2013-14 season. The game will be played opposite of our Louisville series (when we play Louisville at home, we’ll play North Carolina on the road, and vice versa). Roy Williams and I both agreed this was a good year to take a break. We both look forward to continuing this series in 2013-14 for two more years and beyond.

This was widely anticipated to happen for the purpose of staggering the Louisville-North Carolina home-away dates. It makes perfect sense, and I never expected this game to be on more than a one-year hiatus.

The great thing about this game is that, and I know I'm taking a shot at Indiana here, you can always trust the North Carolina fans to be classy. They will never storm the court no matter what our respective rankings. They will never trample our beauty queens, or treat UK fans so horribly they would never want to return. Most importantly, they would never jeopardize our team members by acting like a mid-major facing their first #1 might be expected to act.

I love this series, and I'm completely comfortable home-home with UNC.

I am currently in conversations with Coach K of Duke for a multi-year, neutral-based series that will be played around the country in the best facilities. The games would take place on the same weekend every year and would be THE GAME to watch.

I know that UK has been trying to get a home and home with Duke for many years, and going to a multi-year neutral site game instead makes even more sense than that. Playing Duke at home in their tiny gym makes no economic sense whatever for out-of-state non-conference teams of this magnitude. It deserves a neutral site, and a really good one. I hope it happens.

In 2013-14, we’re going to pull off another one of those "Only at Kentucky" moments when we do a first-of-its-kind doubleheader with our women’s program at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas. Matthew Mitchell’s team will play Baylor, who won this year’s national championship, in the first game, and then we’ll follow it up with our game against Baylor’s men’s team, who we had to get past last year in the Elite Eight to make the Final Four.

You remember above where I harrumphed Calipari's use of "experience?" Well, there's no harrumphing going on here, this is pure, unadulterated genius. I can't say "I love this idea" enough, because, well, I truly do.

What you have to ask yourself is this -- why did it take so long for somebody to think of this? I confess, the idea never crossed my mind, but it is a great idea that has been lying around, undiscovered, for decades.

Let me be clear: It is important that we play in at least one if not two football stadiums every year to prepare our players for NCAA Tournament venues. Not every program can play a regular-season game in a stadium like we can. The NCAA Tournament plays half its regional games and the entire Final Four in those venues. Who do you think will be in those domes and stadiums? It will be us. I’m convinced we would have won the title two seasons ago if we would have played in a dome during the regular season. Our guys weren’t prepared for it.

Okay, let me first say that I'm skeptical that Calipari actually believes that our lack of experience in a dome cost us that game. It's just a little bit too pat, and fits in too well with his argument about experience in domes, which in turn supports his argument for more neutral site games.

In fact, I am skeptical of the idea that domes really make all that much difference -- Kentucky's perimeter shooting in 2010 was always subject to occasional breakdowns. Plus, this was in the Carrier Dome, and among domed stadiums, it is among the least intimidating. I agree that UK had the best team on paper, but West Virginia's gameplan was excellent, and I don't think the Carrier Dome cost us the game.

Be that as it may, it cannot hurt us to get some time in domes before the tournament, and if Coach Cal thinks it would help, who am I to gainsay him?

There may be years that we add teams to the schedule based on our league and our team, but generally speaking, this is what we’ll do. We will play a national nonconference home game and a national nonconference road game to prepare us for the 18 SEC games, as well as three to four Kentucky experiences at neutral sites, including one or two at football stadiums that will prepare us for the NCAA Tournament and our fans will have access to.

I am fine with this, and I think most UK fans, particularly those without season tickets, are as well. It will be most interesting to see how the season ticket holders respond to this arrangement. If there is anything that could put pressure on this idea, it would be the season ticket holders.

But assuming they can be assuaged, I think it is a fine plan. Most of you know I count myself among the traditionalists, but I must say that I was never particularly traditional when it comes to venue, especially in the non-conference portion of the schedule. If Cal wants more netural-site games in domes, I think he should get them if he can mollify those who might see the quality of their season passes suffer.

Overall, I think Calipari deserves to schedule how he wants, and if calling them "experiences" makes him happy, well, I'm fine with it. As long as we have a good basketball team that has a chance to compete for the national title, he's doing his job well. If he thinks more dome games would help, I say let's put that theory to the test. If it makes the coach feel better and allows him to point out that domes are no excuse for poor play to his charges, more power to him.

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