Mark Story: The area where UK and U of L basketball need to work together

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistMay 11, 2013 

In the era of John Calipari and Rick Pitino, the Kentucky-Louisville men's basketball rivalry is a burning inferno of antagonism. Yet there is an area where UK and U of L men's basketball would both benefit from the two schools working together.

Since NCAA Tournament rules prohibit teams from playing Big Dance games on their home courts, it would be in the interests of UK basketball for U of L to play host to the NCAA tourney in the KFC Yum Center as often as possible.

It would be equally beneficial to U of L basketball for UK to play host to the NCAA tourney in Rupp Arena as often as possible.

In 2012, Kentucky started NCAA Tournament play in the Yum Center with two wins before partisan UK crowds and went on to claim the national championship.

In 2013, Louisville started NCAA Tournament play in Rupp Arena with two wins before partisan U of L crowds and went on to claim the national championship.

The question on the floor this morning, is why shouldn't our basketball-mad state aspire to put itself in position to serve as host for some part of the NCAA Tournament every year?

For the benefits of a state maximizing its hosting opportunities, college basketball interests in the commonwealth need only to look to North Carolina.

Home-state advantage

In the 2000s, the Tar Heel state has been the site for some NCAA Tournament play 10 years out of 14 opportunities.

Every season in which the NCAA tourney has been played in North Carolina, at least one team from that state has gotten to play "at home." Eight times, two teams from North Carolina have gotten to start their tourney journey inside state boundaries.

Since 2000, teams from North Carolina are 30-1 in NCAA Tournament games played inside the Tar Heel state. Davidson is 2-0. Wake Forest is 2-0. The University of North Carolina is 12-0. Duke is 14-1 (what were the odds, the one loss was delivered by Lehigh?).

In a state that values NCAA Tournament success as much as ours, why would we not do all possible to give our teams the same advantage that North Carolina is giving theirs by so often serving as tourney host?

The NCAA tourney in Kentucky every year may not be realistic. The general consensus is that the NCAA tries to rotate tournament sites among as many different locales as possible. Officially, however, there is nothing that would stop it.

According to Cameron Schuh, an NCAA publicist, there are no limitations on how many times a city and/or state can serve as a host to the men's basketball tournament, nor how frequently they can host from year-to-year.

A state of some 9.75 million people, North Carolina has advantages over Kentucky. Already this century, four different North Carolina cities — Charlotte, Raleigh, Greensboro and Winston-Salem — have served as host for the NCAA Tournament at least twice.

There were no tournament games in North Carolina in 2013 but Raleigh will play host to the rounds of 64 and 32 in 2014 and Charlotte will do so in 2015.

A UK-U of L partnership?

In Kentucky, population of some 4.38 million, we lack as many potential hosting venues. Though Bowling Green has been an NCAA Tournament host twice (1965 and '80), presently Lexington and Louisville are the only places with arenas large enough to field men's NCAA Tournament contests.

To get the Big Dance, an NCAA school has to agree to serve as host. Then the school's home city has to bid for the right.

If the state of Kentucky is going to become a more frequent tournament site, UK and U of L are going to have to drive the effort.

At this time, the 2015 rounds of 64 and 32 in the KFC Yum Center stand as the only future NCAA Tournament play set for our state.

UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said that Kentucky and Louisville have not had discussions about working together to maximize the number of NCAA Tournament games played in the commonwealth.

"I do know we enjoyed getting to go over there and play in front of our fans in 2012," Barnhart said. "And I'm sure they enjoyed being (in Lexington) this year and in 2007 (when U of L also played two tourney games in Rupp)."

Kenny Klein, U of L senior associate athletics director, said, "I can promise you, we liked just hopping on the bus and going over to Rupp this year. I'm sure (Kentucky) felt the same way (in 2012)."

The presence of a truck show scheduled for this coming March in Freedom Hall kept Louisville from bidding for the 2014 NCAA Tournament, Klein said. "That just had too many hotel rooms in the city tied up," he said.

Given the financial uncertainty that surrounds debt incurred to build the KFC Yum Center, the city of Louisville would seem to have maximum incentive to bid for NCAA Tournaments every year possible. "We want to have the NCAA Tournament (in the Yum Center) as many times as we can get it," Klein said.

The situation with Rupp Arena is less clear. After it opened in 1976, Rupp played host to the NCAA tourney once in the 1970s, four times in the '80s, four times in the 1990s, but only three times (2002, '07, '13) so far in the 21st century.

In March, Lexington Center President Bill Owen said, "I'd like to host the NCAA every year." However, Owen said last month that Rupp Arena officials follow UK's lead on bidding to host the tourney.

There could also be uncertainty around Rupp's future availability, Owen said, if the city of Lexington's current proposal to have a major renovation of the arena comes to fruition.

Barnhart said UK is willing to look at hosting more often, but noted that Kentucky is seeking to play host to the women's NCAA Tournament — where teams can play on their home courts — in 2014.

Here's a thought. UK and U of L cooperate to try to ensure that when the men's tournament is in Lexington, the women's tourney is in Louisville the same year — and vice versa.

The commonwealth's basketball teams and fans, its cities and taxpayers deserve the same benefits from maximizing our state's NCAA Tournament role that North Carolina has long enjoyed.

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

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