Posted: 10:08 a.m. Friday, Feb. 14, 2014
By Glenn Logan
Dick Vitale is nothing if not consistent.
Comes now Dick Vitale to argue, as he has a number of times in the past, that college basketball "needs" a Kentucky Wildcats vs. Indiana Hoosiers game. First of all, let me say that Vitale is a very nice man and his heart is in exactly the right place. I appreciate what he does for college basketball and for the V Foundation, the Jim Valvano foundation to develop a cure for cancer. I had the pleasure of briefly meeting him in New Orleans in 2012, and my wife had me take a picture of her with him.
So let's turn to Dickie V.'s piece:
If raising money to fight cancer is my No. 1 passion, then college basketball is 1a. I do believe in my heart that rivalries are vital to the success of the sport. I feel so strongly that Kentucky and Indiana, two traditional powers, should meet every season.
My friends, between 1970 and 2012, over a stretch of 43 consecutive seasons, these teams met each season at least once. There were several times they faced off in the NCAA tournament as well. These are among the crème de la crème programs in all of college hoops, and it is a shame that fans, players and media are denied this matchup.
In Dick's defense, the Kentucky-Indiana series was the longest-running series between Kentucky and an out-of-conference foe. Kentucky has played the Hoosiers on 56 different occasions dating back to 1924. For comparison, Kentucky has played the Louisville Cardinals only 46 times to date, and North Carolina only 36 times.
Also in his defense, it isn't really debatable that only Kentucky vs. Louisville surpasses the intensity of the Indiana-Kentucky rivalry. That was amply demonstrated in the last game Kentucky played in Bloomington when the fans stormed the floor and some people in attendance suffered injuries by reason of the floor-storming.
So let's get to Vitale's proposal:
I have an idea to help motivate them: make part of the proceeds go to the V Foundation for Cancer Research.
Here's another suggestion, based on what the VBDI (Vitale Bald Dome Index) spit out: set up a four-year series. Play one game at the campus in Bloomington, one game at Rupp Arena in Lexington on campus, one game at the Hoosier Dome and one game at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville.
I know Calipari was upset when some fans acted poorly at the last game in Bloomington. He cannot take it out on everyone. Get added security for the rivalry. I am talking about one trip to Bloomington in the four-year cycle.
So let me address these points one by one:
The sport does not need the Indiana-Kentucky game. It went without similar games, such as Louisville vs. Kentucky for years to no ill effect. Kentucky has two rivals that it has to play every year, enough for most UK fans. There are plenty of great rivalries without this one, and in fact, we did without the UK-UNC rivalry for most of the 1980's and 1990's. Somehow college basketball survived.
Dick is one of the few still lamenting the discontinuation of the series. That's evidence that we can get along fine without it.
If I were Calipari, I would agree to return to Bloomington only under the conditions that a court-storming would not be permitted. I have no idea how that could happen, given the Hoosier's history of running onto the floor at the drop of a hat. Apparently, program dignity isn't particularly high on their list.
Calipari has been adamant that he will not renew the home-home series, and in his view, this game belongs on a neutral court. Crean has taken the opposite position, and the two schools are at loggerheads.
Could Calipari back off his demands? Sure, he could, and maybe he will, but I don't really think he has a reason to. Calipari and Crean are friends, and Calipari has said that he hates playing friends. Normally, I don't think that would stop the game, but combined with what happened in 2011 and the acrimonious negotiation after the 2012 season, I don't see how either side could capitulate without looking ridiculous to their fans. I think Vitale's proposal was actually floated during the 2012 back-and-forth, but never really discussed.
Here's the thing, though — The IU-UK game was played at neutral sites 20 times out of the 48 games since the series began as a series back in 1969. Calipari has a better case than Crean, especially in modern history, for moving the game back to neutral sites when you couple history with the fan misbehavior the last time UK played in Bloomington.
In the end, I think Vitale is appealing to the wrong people. I get the distinct impression that the IU Director of Athletics is the real impediment to reaching a compromise, although I base that on the dubious "skill" of reading between the lines. It is also possible, even likely, that UK AD Mitch Barnhart is as adamant about not going back to Bloomington as Calipari.
Yes, I'm confident that if both coaches really wanted this game, the AD's would likely relent. However, I don't see any clear and convincing evidence that either side considers this game as valuable to college basketball as Vitale, and while that remains true, you can expect for this series to resume only in a pre-conference or post-season tournament.
Could that change? Sure, it could — compromise remains a hallmark of the human condition and I, for one, would be happy to see the series renewed under conditions that all parties can live with. What would that look like? I don't really know — perhaps something like what Vitale suggests.
For right now, Dick, hope is all you have. But then again, hope is your stock-in-trade, and that's never a bad thing.