Tom Crean is content playing one basketball game a season in Indianapolis — but not two.
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One week after Indiana announced it would not renew its contract with Kentucky because of a dispute over where the rivals should play, Crean explained the reason for the split: The games belong on campus.
”First off, someone asked me do you not want to play neutral sites? We have neutral sites,” Crean told reporters Tuesday night before meeting with fans at Lucas Oil Stadium. ”When the Crossroads Classic came in, that became something that was going to be locked in every year. Even though it’s in Indianapolis, it’s a neutral site. It’s not a home site. You always want to have the ability to play in exempt tournaments. We’ve done that in the past. We have it this year, playing in New York. So there’s three right there.”
The ending of a series between the two border state rivals and two of college basketball’s most prestigious programs has been a hot topic around the state since Indiana athletic director Fred Glass announced the decision.
Indiana and Kentucky have met annually since 1969, almost always in December. The series started at campus sites before moving exclusively to Freedom Hall in Louisville and the Hoosier/RCA Dome in Indianapolis from 1991 through 2005. In 2006, the games moved back to campus and were played at Kentucky’s Rupp Arena and Indiana’s Assembly Hall.
But after the top-ranked Wildcats lost on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer in Bloomington, Ind., in December, fans rushed the court as some players for both teams were lying on the floor. It was Kentucky’s only loss during the regular-season. While the Wildcats beat Indiana in an NCAA tournament game en route to their eighth national title, they had been negotiating to move the series back to neutral sites.
Both teams are expected to be ranked in the top five next fall, which would have made the game one of next season’s feature attractions.
As recently as last week, it seemed possible and, in fact, Wildcats athletic director Mitch Barnhart said he thought the schools had agreed to a new contract.
”After the NCAA championships, both schools verbally agreed in principle to play for two years at neutral sites (Dec. 8, 2012 and Dec. 7 or 14, 2013) and agreed to revisit campus sites upon completion of the two-year deal,” he said in a statement released by the athletic department. ”The public comments by Indiana prior to (last week) led us to believe that our previous verbal agreement could be in jeopardy, but at no point did we ever have any mutual discussions with Indiana to end the series.”
Glass has left the door open slightly, saying he would negotiate a new deal if Kentucky agreed to play the games on campus.
Crean doesn’t want to go to neutral sites because of the schedule the Hoosiers already play.
The Crossroads Classic is a doubleheader between the state’s four biggest basketball schools — Indiana, Notre Dame, Purdue and Butler. The Hoosiers also play on the road every other year in the annual ACC-Big Ten Challenge. And with hopes of playing exempt tourneys in Hawaii or Alaska, Crean says another neutral-site game would cost the Hoosiers too many home games.
”We want to make sure we’re always having enough home games that you can schedule for each year,” he said. ”If something works out for us to be on the road, great. It’s as simple as that for us. It wasn’t a complicated process.”
How the Hoosiers fill future schedules is unclear, too.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino has already expressed interest in playing the Hoosiers, and there have been murmurs that Indiana and Kansas could begin a series.