Last week, the SEC coaches’ summer basketball teleconference took place and John Calipari re-emphasized that a contest between the Indiana Hoosiers and the Kentucky Wildcats, one of the most historic rivalries in all of sports, is showing no signs of reviving anytime soon.
According to Jerry Tipton, a writer who has covered the Kentucky Wildcats for nearly 4 decades, Indiana once again turned down the proposal to play the cross-border match up in a neutral site, specifically the “RCA Dome” in Indianapolis. (Of course the actual RCA Dome was demolished in 2008, so the Kentucky head coach most likely meant the newer Lucas Oil Stadium.)
From discussions in the past, Indiana AD Fred Glass wanted to incorporate two neutral site games paired with a home-and-away set between the two teams. In that model, there would only be one game in Bloomington every four years, but it would allow the incoming freshmen at least one game in each arena for that contract.
Interestingly this is a similar offer that Tom Crean received and openly defended the decision to decline the game. At the time, former Indiana head coach Tom Crean mentioned that the reason was that they wanted to reserve their ability to play in exempt tournaments, which the NCAA has set limits on.
The last time the teams met was in the 2016 NCAA Tournament and Indiana beat Kentucky in the Round of 32, 73-67. That season the #5 seeded Hoosiers made it to the Sweet 16 behind at team led by star players Yogi Ferrell, Thomas Bryant and OG Anunoby. The last time the teams met in the regular season was in 2011 where Indiana won 73-72 behind Watford’s last second 3-pointer.
Why the Rivalry Dissolved in the First Place
Calipari mentioned that he attempted to revive the rivalry years back with a two game contract with the Hoosiers at a neutral site, Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Was it steadfast refusal to ever play in Assembly Hall again because of the way the Hoosier fans stormed the court in one of the biggest upsets in recent college basketball history.
Kentucky bluntly does not have a desire to add another non-conference game that they think is not worth their time. The current Indiana basketball program is not to the same level of power and consistency as it was 30-40 years ago in the Bob Knight era. Having 20 of your past 25 seasons with over 10 losses is a tell-tale sign that the Hoosiers are not what they used to be when they were a consistent national power. Kentucky has only had 10 double-digit loss seasons on the other hand, three under Calipari.
Kentucky is content to play Duke, Michigan State, UNC, Louisville and other current powers for their non-conference schedule, build their resume, and prepare for March.
On the other hand, Indiana has no desire to play a neutral court game. The annual Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis has always been a stressful game for the Hoosiers where the Hoosiers have a lot of downside, and not much upside. If Indiana wins, well they are supposed to as the basketball school in the Hoosier state. Whenever they lose, they once again take a hit on their reputation against Notre Dame or Butler.
For example, Indiana has lost to Butler when we were ranked #1 and #9 while Butler was unranked and #18 respectively, and we almost lost last season but survived due to Phinisee’s last second three to win the game.
In the interest of furthering the sport in the state of Indiana, the Hoosiers continue to participate in the event year after year. The contract for the Crossroads Class event does technically expire after 2019, so there is a potential that a different event takes its place.
When we can see its Revival
The Hoosiers do want to play Kentucky despite being viewed as the stubborn member of the negotiations by many. Bruiser Flint, a current assistant for the Hoosiers and former assistant to Calipari, was viewed as a possible way that the rivalry would get revived. Archie and Bruiser are believed to have a good relationship with Calipari. Despite these connections, the rivalry continues at a standstill.
In the same way the Hoosiers have little upside and more downside for the Crossroads event, Kentucky has much to lose and not much to gain from resuming this rivalry.
The truth is that the Hoosiers are a trap to play at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. When big teams come through, the fans show up in a way that many other venues can only dream about. If every other year, a top-50 Hoosiers team gets an opportunity to steal a win against a top-15 Kentucky team at home, it’s not difficult to see why playing at a neutral court makes the match up more desirable for the Wildcats.
They have offered alternatives with neutral site games and have focused on much more on match-ups with current “top tier” teams such as Louisville and Michigan State. It is only when these upcoming meetings have passed will the discussions have a chance of reopening. The problem lies in that this will be sometime over 5 years away before we could see Kentucky and Indiana on the same regular season court again.
Realistically, the only way we will see them play again is if their is a change in heart on either side, or if John Calipari retires from his lifelong contract. Between the memorable ESPY-winning “Watshot” and the court-storming of Indiana fans on that cold December night, there seems to be a thematic disinterest in returning back to Bloomington without any benefit to Kentucky.
The other way to possibly bring this rivalry back is if the Hoosiers become a national power again. The Hoosiers showed a breath of life the middle of this decade before Crean departed, but that rebirth has quickly fizzled and is probably a minimum of a couple years out. If Kentucky can get a scheduling boost and improve their resume by stopping by Bloomington consistently, perhaps this story would have a different ending.
Maybe another option is for the Hoosier fans to sign a big card saying that they are sorry for storming the court and send it to Calipari.
(Featured Photo: IndianaHQ)