At the end of the day, it is pointless to blame anyone for the end — temporary or not — of the Kentucky-Indiana rivalry. John Calipari doesn’t want to play non-conference games in road environments. He just doesn’t, and he never will, and nothing that Tom Crean or Indiana or, well, anyone could tell him to change his mind. He’s concerned about one thing: the success of his program, and he’ll do whatever he can to help his program regardless of the costs to fans or the game as a whole.
Calipari does not back down. Ever. And in this case, he ran into another coach that simply was not going to be backed down or bullied. Tom Crean wanted this game played on home courts, and it didn’t matter if the first two games of the series were going to be played in Indiana. He wasn’t going to get pushed around by anyone, especially not the coach from down in Lexington.
Instead of working out a way to make this game happen, two stubborn, bull-headed (and successful) coaches refused to concede anything, and it cost us what could have turned into one of, if not the best regular season game of each and every season.
Think about it: Kentucky and Indiana have two of the nation’s largest and most passionate fan bases. They could play this game in Guam and it would sell out each and every season, regardless of how good the two programs are. What makes matters worse is that both UK and IU are currently peaking. Every preseason poll is going to have the two programs in the top three in the country, and the majority will have them No. 1 and No. 2. With the way Calipari recruits, Kentucky will always be in that position, but Crean has been bringing in his fair share of talent and has plenty committed to play for the Hoosiers in the future.
Kentucky and Indiana had the best finish of the 2011-2012 season in the best environment of the year (a game that just so happened to take place in December) before taking part in the 2012 tournament’s most entertaining game.
And therein lies the shame.
College basketball is dangerously close to becoming a three-week sport. The regular season already borderlines on meaningless for the majority of casual fans. Few pay attention to the games that are played in November or December. More start paying attention once football ends in early February.
One way to combat that problem is to schedule more marquee games early in the season, limiting the number of 40 point blowouts we see prior to conference play. But now, not only are we going to lose IU-UK, it also appears as if the UK-UNC series will end.
There is no requirement for these two programs to play. Calipari and Crean are allowed to run their programs in the best way that they see fit. But their inability to settle their differences is just the latest example of middle-aged men destroying some of college basketball’s biggest game.
Kansas and Missouri will no longer play thanks to Missouri’s departure for the SEC. Pitt and Syracuse heading to the ACC ends their rivalries against West Virginia and Georgetown. And now we lose UNC-UK and IU-UK. In a sport where marquee matchups are fairly rare, eight must-see games just got wiped from the schedule.
But hey, at least Rupp Arena and Assembly Hall will be sold out while Kentucky and Indiana beat up on Gardner-Webb and North Carolina-Central, respectively.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.