Kentucky has agreed to a three-year contract beginning in the 2011-12 season to play in the made-for-ESPN Champions Classic, pitting the Wildcats against three of the top programs in college basketball over a three-year span. Those games will be against Kansas, Duke and Michigan State in New York, Atlanta and Chicago, respectively.
"This three-year event is a reward for how passionate these fan bases are for their teams," UK Coach John Calipari said in a statement. "It's a unique opportunity for our fans across the nation to see us play in three major cities against top-level competition. We are looking forward to the challenge and sharing it with the Big Blue Nation, the best fans in the country."
In 2011, Kentucky will play Kansas, preceded by Duke-Michigan State, in Madison Square Garden on Nov. 15. In 2012, the Cats will take on Duke in the Georgia Dome on Nov. 13. In 2013, UK plays Michigan State in the United Center on Nov. 12.
The three-year, six-game Classic will tip off the college basketball season. All six games will be televised on ESPN. Ticket information will be provided at a later date, UK said.
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Before UK played Notre Dame Wednesday night, Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart noted the "fun opportunities" for fans to travel to New York, Atlanta and Chicago.
One game enough
Barnhart said the men's basketball program should continue the tradition of playing a game in Louisville each season.
"We want to continue to play over here," Barnhart said before the Cats played Notre Dame. He noted the many alumni who live in the Louisville area and the potentially rich recruiting ground.
Earlier this week, the Kentucky State Fair Board said it paid between $10,000 and $12,000 to repaint the Freedom Hall court's trim blue. Spokesman Edward Brown said part of the reason was to try to entice UK to play more than one regular-season game in Freedom Hall each season.
"I haven't had that conversation," Barnhart said with a smile. "We do have an arena back in Lexington. We have to make sure we play enough games there."
UK owes it to the students and city of Lexington to play its home games in Rupp Arena, he said.
Last season, UK Coach John Calipari floated the idea of playing several games in Louisville as a recruiting tool. At the time, Barnhart said flatly that one game in Louisville each season was enough.
When asked whether he still believed that, Barnhart said, "I think that's probably accurate."
But Barnhart seemed a bit more open to the idea of more than one game, if only because he did not want to rule out any possibility.
"I don't want to pin ourselves in a corner," he said.
Although UK Coach John Calipari expressed as recently as Tuesday his reservations about returning to the Maui Invitational, Barnhart gushed about the experience the fan base had in Hawaii Thanksgiving week.
"You literally had people talking to you, 'I planned for four years to come,' and 'We cashed in all our frequent flyer miles to come back,' " Barnhart said.
The AD noted that UK fans travel far and wide to watch the Wildcats play. But when asked whether the trip to Maui held a special place in a fan's itinerary, Barnhart's eyes widened, and he said with a smile, "I think they really enjoyed that based on what they said. They really enjoyed that."
Neutrality is aim
Patrick Whitmer, the public address announcer at Rupp Arena for Kentucky home games, did the P.A. duties for the UK-Notre Dame and Arkansas-Seton Hall games.
Whitmer said organizers of the SEC-Big East Invitational told him to be neutral in his announcements. So there were not any references to "The greatest tradition in the history of college basketball!!!!!!" Nor did Whitmer exclaim or get overly excited by Kentucky achievements.