INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Indiana versus Kentucky, one of college basketball’s best rivalries, is over.
Barring a change of heart between now and this summer, Indiana officials said Thursday that they will not renew the contract to play Kentucky because of a disagreement over where to hold the games. The schools have met during the regular season every year since 1969, with all but one of those games played in December.
After months of behind-the-scenes bickering over whether to play the games on campus, as Indiana prefers, or at neutral sites, as Kentucky prefers, Hoosiers athletic director Fred Glass ended the debate for now.
“In the final analysis, we want our student-athletes, our overall student body and our season-ticket holders to enjoy this series at Assembly Hall,” Glass said.
Glass kept some hope alive by acknowledging the series could be revived if Kentucky is willing to play games on campus. The most recent contract expired after December’s game.
Both sides can point to history to make their arguments.
The games rotated between Freedom Hall in Louisville and the Hoosier/RCA Dome in Indianapolis from 1991 through 2005. That’s when the games returned to campus sites, where the regular-season games were played exclusively from 1976 through 1986.
There is a belief that the schools could make more money by playing in larger, off-campus arenas, but Barnhart argued that neutral sites would take the series back to its original roots. Indiana believes moving games neutral sites won’t provide the same atmosphere and that fans would be better served by watching the games in two of college basketball’s highest-profile venues — Rupp Arena in Lexington and Assembly Hall in Bloomington.
“I guess they’re putting that out there as a final conversation, so we’ll go on from there, do what we have to do,” Barnhart said. “We’ve been playing the games since the early 1950s, somewhere in that range. It’s been a while. It’s disappointing for that not to continue. I hate it for the fans, especially with two top five teams coming back next year. That’s disappointing. It wasn’t an unwillingness to play on our part. We wanted to play. We just felt like there were a couple of things that gave us a chance to play that game back in Jefferson County, put it in Louisville and then return it up to Indianapolis or whatever the other neutral site they wanted to. I guess they did not want to do that.”
The push for different sites began after the top-ranked Wildcats lost their only regular-season game last season at Indiana. It came on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Christian Watford, a shot that set off a wild celebration that included students rushing the court. Kentucky went on to win the national championship.
“I don’t think he (Kentucky coach John Calipari) was really thrilled about going back to Bloomington, to be honest with you,” Barnhart said.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino also has expressed interest in playing Indiana on an annual basis, though coach Tom Crean has said that is unlikely to happen in 2012-13.
Crean and Calipari are old friends, but the Indiana coach issued a statement supporting Glass‘ decision.
“We have a strong belief that this series should be played on campus and is something that should be beneficial for both teams,” Crean said.