Mark Story: Truth (and fiction) of UK's scheduling

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistMay 8, 2012 

It's time for an "ending some of college basketball's most-attractive rivalries" edition of America's number one game show: Truth or Fiction?

Topic one: By insisting on neutral courts instead of the home-and-home that Indiana preferred, John Calipari and UK bear more of the blame than Tom Crean and IU for the death (for now) of the border-state hoops rivalry.

Verdict: Fiction.

If Kentucky and Indiana had been playing home-and-home since 1969-70 (when the annual series between the two began) and UK tried to switch that, then the blame would fairly go on Kentucky.

But most of the recent history of the Kentucky-Indiana series has been at neutral sites. UK and IU played exclusively in Louisville and Indianapolis from 1991-92 through 2005-06. The two schools only resumed playing home-and-home after '05-06 because the relationship between UK and the University of Louisville had frayed so bad that U of L squeezed Kentucky out of all prime weekend dates in Freedom Hall, preventing the Wildcats from facing the Hoosiers there.

In the UK-IU impasse, the position of neither school is "morally superior" to the other's. Playing on campus, as Crean wanted, is better for students and season-ticket holders. Playing at neutral sites, as Calipari preferred, is better for "average" fans of both schools who can't get season tickets.

One more time, what UK and IU both are to blame for — equally — is failing to compromise.

Topic two: For UK, losing the Indiana series is a bigger deal than losing the one with North Carolina.

Verdict: Truth.

Before this past season, Kentucky-Indiana had gone stale. UK-UNC, conversely, has been the most-anticipated game on the Cats' schedule in several recent years.

So why does losing Indiana matter more?

IU-UK involves border states. IU-UK has more history as a continuous rivalry. After some prior stops and starts, the Cats and Tar Heels have been playing every year only since 2000-01.

Then there is the lasting mutual enmity between Indiana's greatest all-time coach (should we say his name?) and Kentucky and its fans. Even now, that bad blood gives UK-IU a unique and enduring rivalry flavor.

Topic three: In a scheduling missive he posted on his personal Web site on Sunday night, John Calipari claims that signing contracts for longer than two years for annual rivalry games with Louisville, Indiana and North Carolina potentially puts Kentucky — with its full embrace of one-and-done players and the annually in-flux rosters that have resulted — in a situation that is unfair to UK's players.

Verdict: Fiction.

Since Calipari came to UK and employed his heavy-reliance on freshmen and "new team every year" approach, Kentucky's combined record against Louisville, Indiana and North Carolina is 10-2.

Topic four: Calipari says the best way to prepare for NCAA Tournament success is playing marquee opponents at neutral sites on the kind of courts (read domes) that tend to be in use in the late rounds of the Big Dance.

Verdict: Truth.

In this position, Calipari is mirroring the stance his BFF Rick Pitino (sarcasm) took when he was Kentucky coach.

When Ricky P. inherited the UK job (1989-90), Kentucky was annually playing Louisville, Indiana, Notre Dame, North Carolina AND Kansas.

Pitino quickly shed the home-and-homes with UNC and KU. He began playing Indiana at neutral sites.

Kentucky replaced Carolina and Kansas with one-time games against the likes of UCLA, Maryland, Massachusetts (with Calipari and Marcus Camby), Clemson and Purdue at neutral sites.

How well did that approach prepare the Cats for March? Kentucky's NCAA Tournament record under Pitino was 22-6.

Topic five: A series between Indiana and Louisville — which has reportedly already contacted IU about replacing Kentucky in a home-and-home contract with the Hoosiers — is just as good as UK-IU.

Verdict: Fiction.

Mean no disrespect to U of L, a top 10 all-time college hoops program, but Cardinals-Hoosiers would not fill the void left by the absence of Kentucky-Indiana. Neither would a UK-Purdue nor a Kentucky-Notre Dame series.

Along with North Carolina, Kentucky and Indiana are the states where college basketball matters most. UK and IU are "the state schools" that represent the most fans in each hoops-mad locale.

So U of L vs. IU would be fun. But, for the reason above, it's not the same as Kentucky-Indiana.

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Email: mstory@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com

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