While it doesn’t have quite the national pop of Duke-North Carolina or Syracuse-UConn, the Indiana-Kentucky series in basketball has a lot going for it, both in terms of the teams’ histories and the rabidity of the rivalry between the fans. But could the series as it currently stands be in trouble?
The answer appears to be yes. Per Justin Albers (@Justin_Albers) of the IU blog Inside The Hall (in reverse chronological order):
What? IU and Kentucky not playing? Sacrilege! We’ve seen some threats to the series before — Bob Knight famously made noise about canceling the series in the aftermath of the mid-80’s scandals in Lexington — but things have sailed along steadily for a few decades now. There were some rumblings earlier this year about Kentucky possibly dropping one of IU, Louisville, or North Carolina due to an expanded SEC schedule, but nothing further has come of that.
There’s no question that a neutral site schedule could work for this series, as it already has. The two teams regularly matched up in either the RCA Dome or Freedom Hall throughout the 90’s and early 2000s. Those RCA Dome games were a sight to behold, with 40,000 fans split right down the middle. Problem is, that didn’t give Indiana much of a home court advantage in their own backyard, and Kentucky certainly had the upper hand in Louisville when it came to crowd comparison. As it currently stands, the Kentucky game is the most anticipated and buzz-worthy game in Assembly Hall when it’s on the schedule.
I have a hard time seeing Kentucky dropping IU from the schedule at this point, given the sudden resurgence of the Hoosier program being coupled with the constant media exposure that the 2011-12 game has gotten, courtesy of Christian Watford. But it’s interesting that this particular issue is cropping up now, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see UK use the neutral site item as a wedge issue to give itself a year or two without Indiana on the schedule. That would be a shame, because a reconstituted Indiana-Kentucky rivalry has the potential to be one of the cornerstones of college basketball culture. Hell, the two states have battled on the high school all-star level since before the start of World War II.
I do wonder if IU would be willing to bend on the neutral site provision if Kentucky would agree to have it hosted every year in Indianapolis, rather than rotating it with Louisville. That seems unlikely, but it might be the only compromise solution available.