Mark Story

Let's create an 'all-Kentucky classic' to promote college hoops in our state

As Kentucky coach, John Calipari is 7-0 against in-state opponents other than Louisville and is 9-2 against the Cardinals.
As Kentucky coach, John Calipari is 7-0 against in-state opponents other than Louisville and is 9-2 against the Cardinals. AP

In a public appearance in Louisville this week, Western Kentucky men's basketball coach Rick Stansbury made a proposal for something new in our state's college hoops.

"I wish we could come up with some kind of tournament," Stansbury said. "... We could get Kentucky, Louisville, (WKU) and another (in-state) school in a tournament somewhere. It'd be great for everybody."

Rick Stansbury hands up
In a public appearance earlier this week, Western Kentucky Coach Rick Stansbury proposed a new tournament of in-state men's basketball teams that would include our state's two marquee programs, Kentucky and Louisville. "It'd be great for everybody," Stansbury said. Austin Anthony Daily News via AP

Ever since 2011-12 when Indiana, Purdue, Notre Dame and Butler started playing the Crossroads Classic — an annual doubleheader featuring the four marquee programs in Indiana college basketball — I have been mulling how something similar could be held in Kentucky.

Let's stipulate up front that the odds of such an event ever happening in the commonwealth are beyond long.

To start, it would require the men's basketball programs at Kentucky and Louisville working together, which never happens.

It would mean asking the athletics departments at UK and U of L to sacrifice financially for the overall good of college hoops in our state — which is a gargantuan ask.

Then you would essentially need all seven of Kentucky's NCAA Division I basketball schools getting on the same page with scheduling, how to split tickets, share TV revenues, etc.

Good luck with that.

After Stansbury broached the idea, Courier Journal sportswriter Jeff Greer came up with a series of concepts for how an all-Kentucky tourney might work.

In my view, you can forget about a tournament. Too complicated.

Former Kentucky basketball star Anthony Davis returned to Lexington to host a basketball camp at Lexington Christian Academy.

UK and U of L already play annually. Would Chris Mack and John Calipari really sign on for a double dose of rivalry insanity? Nor would basketball fans in our state be well-served by ending the annual Cats-Cards Armageddon in favor of uncertain meetings in an all-Kentucky tournament.

Instead, let's borrow from our Hoosier friends and create our own version of the Crossroads Classic, a one-day doubleheader that would showcase Kentucky college basketball.

As I envision it, the Commonwealth Classic (yes, I know that is the name applied to the basketball rivalry between Boston College and Massachusetts) would alternate year to year between Rupp Arena and the KFC Yum Center.

When the doubleheader is in Louisville, Western Kentucky and Murray State would participate, one facing UK, one playing U of L.

Conversely, when the Commonwealth Classic is played in Lexington, Eastern Kentucky, Morehead State and Northern Kentucky would be in the pool of opponents for the Cats and Cards.

You could use the previous season's records among EKU, MSU and NKU to decide who gets to play in the doubleheader. Put the team with the best record in, then have a play-in game among the other two.

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Northern Kentucky forward Drew McDonald, No. 34, battled for the ball with Kentucky guard De'Aaron Fox during UK's 79-70 victory over NKU in the 2017 NCAA Tournament round of 64. Charles Bertram cbertram@herald-leader.com

Or you could go alphabetically and alternate, with Eastern and Morehead going first, followed by Morehead State and NKU, then NKU and EKU etc. ...

Hypothetically, future Commonwealth Classic matchups could look like:

2020-21 at KFC Yum Center: Kentucky vs. Murray State; Louisville vs. Western Kentucky

2021-22 at Rupp Arena: Kentucky vs. Eastern Kentucky; Louisville vs. Morehead State

2022-23 at KFC Yum Center: Kentucky vs. Western Kentucky; Louisville vs. Murray State

2023-24 at Rupp Arena: Kentucky vs. Morehead State; Louisville vs. Northern Kentucky

You would split the tickets for the "Commonwealth Classic" evenly between the four participating teams.

Then use the revenue beyond expenses to help improve life in Kentucky, maybe college scholarships for high school students in the commonwealth who have overcome challenging life circumstances.

Essentially, you are asking UK and and U of L to share the big stages they occupy for the benefit of our state's other NCAA Division I schools.

You are also asking the Wildcats and the Cardinals to subject themselves to the risk of upset losses against what would be highly motivated foes.

The last time Kentucky and Western Kentucky met in the regular season, WKU beat UK 64-52 in Rupp Arena in 2001-02.

All of us remember, too, who came out ahead when Louisville met Morehead State in the 2011 NCAA Tournament round of 64, (ladies and gentlemen, Demonte Harper).

Alas, it would probably be easier to broker peace in the Middle East than to make an annual, all-Kentucky college hoops doubleheader happen.

For college basketball in our state, though, it would be such a cool thing if we could figure out a way to make the Commonwealth Classic a reality.

UK point guard De'Aaron Fox recaps the loss at Louisville, talks about playing in front of the Yum Center crowd and where the Cats go from here.

Mark Story: 859-231-3230; Twitter: @markcstory

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