On Tuesday morning, Bill Koch of the Cincinnati Enquirer broke the news that the Crosstown Shootout — one of the few nationally relevant rivalries left after the latest round of realignment — will, in fact, be played next season.
The Crosstown Shootout, for those that don’t know, pits Xavier and Cincinnati, two schools with campuses just a couple of miles apart. It also was the setting for last season’s ugliest moment, as an always-intense game reached the tipping point, as a brawl broke out that resulted in a bloodied Kenny Frease and a number of suspensions for players on both teams.
According to Koch’s report, the game will be played on a neutral site — at US Bank Arena — “on Dec. 18, 19 or 20 and will be televised on one of the ESPN channels.” It would be the first time in 25 years that the game hasn’t taken place on the campus of one of the two participating schools.
The catch in Koch’s article, however, is at the end of the second paragraph: “an official announcement expected in June.”
That sentence matters because on Tuesday afternoon, a good six hours after Koch’s story spread across the college basketball intrawebs, a statement was released by the presidents of both universities saying:
The University of Cincinnati and Xavier University were both surprised to see today’s announcement concerning the future of the Crosstown Shootout. While both schools are committed to the future of the Crosstown rivalry, specific discussions are ongoing and no details have been finalized. We look forward to sharing our plans with the community at an appropriate time in the coming weeks.
Does that mean that the agreement has been made but pen hasn’t yet been put to paper, or is this truly a decision that is still up for discussion?
Whatever the case may be, I am of the belief that moving the event away from campus sites would be a mistake. As Mike DeCourcy, a Cincinnati resident that knows the rivalry as well as anyone, points out, the beauty of the game is how rare is was to see a fan of the visiting team in attendance. It was a point of pride for each fanbase to prevent the opposing color from entering the building.
So what happens when you put these two fanbases together?
Given the amount of attention that this fight received, I don’t expect there to be an issue among the fans. At the end of the day, the brawl was an embarrassment for the entire city, regardless of whether or not you wear red or blue. I would expect fans to be on their best behavior, but, as anyone that is passionate about a sports team knows, once the game starts, emotions can take over — especially when both sides have spent a few pregame hours at their favorite watering hole.
My question is what, exactly, the two sides would be hoping to accomplish by moving to a neutral site. The issue isn’t the crowd; the issue is the players on the court and the way the game is played. DeCourcy says it best: ”
The administrations of each school apparently believed they needed to change something if they wanted to continue playing the game. If the rivalry truly was contaminated, and one could argue it wasn’t in the least, then it needed a cure. What the game didn’t need was botched cosmetic surgery.”
Changing the venue does nothing to fix the trash-talk, the hard fouls or the inability of the referees to control the action. I’d even argue that the new environs won’t even be quite as sterile, not when every single whistle — regardless of who the call benefits — is greeted with a chorus of boos.
If this is what the game needs to continue being played, than I guess a move to a neutral court isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But that doesn’t mean it was the right decision.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.