The Keightley Classic men's basketball tournament starts at Rupp Arena on Sunday, pitting the University of Kentucky men's basketball team against Robert Morris University, the University of Texas-Arlington, Cleveland State and Eastern Michigan.
Those names might not be that familiar to the Big Blue Nation, but they're coming to take part in what's known as a multi-team event. That's an NCAA-designated event that allows teams to play four games outside their conference that count as only one.
Though there's the risk of losing to a lower-ranked team (UK lost to Robert Morris last year in the post-season National Invitation Tournament), the benefits are both athletic and financial, says UK executive associate athletics director DeWayne Peevy.
"Every team will schedule the maximum number of games they're allowed to play," Peevy explained. "You're trying to win games, and to prepare yourself for the post-season."
UK is co-hosting the tournament with Eastern Michigan, which means the other teams will play Eastern Michigan at its home arena in Ypsilanti. By hosting four home games, UK gets a better chance of winning on the home court. In return, UK pays a guarantee to the visiting schools to make it worth their while.
The typical guarantee is about $90,000, Peevy said, but each one is negotiated separately based on travel and other costs.
In this case, Robert Morris and Cleveland State will each get $140,000, and Texas-Arlington will get $110,000.
He said UK will probably continue to host the multi-team events.
"It costs us more to travel to a team than it would to pay the guarantee, so we don't save money by going there, and you could lose," he said. "Luckily for us, a lot more people want to play us."
Peevy estimates that UK brings in about $700,000 per game in net ticket revenues.
The visiting teams are certainly underdogs at Rupp, but there's the possibility of a David-versus-Goliath scenario if they win.
Greg Murphy, spokesman for Cleveland State, said, "They're the top team, and we get to come to Kentucky and see where we are as a program."
Plus, the allure of playing in Rupp spreads well beyond the commonwealth.
"It's a storied place," Murphy said. "It's probably one of the best college venues in the country. I know our staff and student athletes are looking forward to it because of the history — it will be a great experience."
For UK fans, the tournament will also be a way to honor Bill Keightley, UK's equipment manager for nearly 50 years who died in 2008, Peevy said. Tickets will show the No. 48 jersey, which UK retired in Keightley's honor.
He said, "We want to make sure new fans and old fans don't forget about Mr. Keightley."
Linda B. Blackford: (859) 231-1359. Twitter: @lbblackford