For the past four years I’ve been firmly in the give Tom Crean the benefit of the doubt camp, and I’ve been proved out right again and again. But, as in every good relationship, we’ve come to our first real disagreement. And it revolves around the Kentucky series.
Yesterday, our friends at insidethehall.com ran a story about the possibility of IU replacing UK on the schedule next year with Kansas. Rather than recap it, you can read it for yourself here.
I have two areas of disagreement with Crean and fellow Irish Lion patron, Fred Glass (more than once, I’ve seen Fred there for a pre-game meal).
I should preface all of this by saying I have no idea what the financials of the situation are and I’m certain that plays a huge role in these discussions, so let’s just ignore that part for now.
Glass’s position is that the IU-UK series should continue as a home and home series and he told insidethehall.com that “we owe it to our student bodies to try to do that.” Again, with no actual facts about the money involved, I disagree.
I’ve been to the last two Kentucky games in Assembly Hall, and I’ll stipulate that the win last December was without a doubt the greatest environment I’ve ever been in and the greatest sports moment I’ve ever witnessed in person. But I’ve also been to four or five of the Kentucky games held at either Freedom Hall or the RCA Dome. And I prefer the neutral site games. For a few reasons.
First, I have no intention of ever going to Lexington and I doubt that getting a ticket to the IU game would be easy or reasonably priced, meaning that I can only go to this game every other year. When it alternates between Indianapolis and Louisville I can go every year.
Second, the energy in those places when the building is split down the middle, red on one side, blue on the other, is fantastic.
Third, and this one is selfish. I have places to stay and friends to visit in both Indy and Louisville that make those trips enjoyable for me.
Crean is also quoted in that article as saying the they aren’t going to overschedule and that we’ll only play KU is the UK series falls through.
I’m calling full shenanigans on that entire statement. Let’s break it down a bit.
We’ve played both UK and KU in the same season multiple times. There were two four-year contracts, one in the early 70s, one in the early 90s when we played series against Kansas. For our purposes it’s worth looking at the latter of the two as the 92-93 IU and Kansas teams are the most analogous to our current, respective, teams.
The 1993 Hoosiers finished the season with a 31-4 record, a 17-1 Big Ten record and went into the NCAA as the Number One seed in the Midwest Region. Both teams spent nearly the entire season ranked in the Top 5 with a late season loss to Kansas State dropping KU to 9th in the poll.
Kentucky also spent that entire season in the Top 5.
Both the Kansas and Kentucky games were played on neutral sites that year. We also played 6th ranked Seton Hall, 9th ranked Florida State, and 19th ranked Cincinnati in the non-conference season. By the final poll of that season we had played five of the top ten teams in the nation, with wins over all of them except Kentucky and Kansas.
It was a very tough schedule, but we were a very good team. And with every expectation that we are going to be a very good team again next year, a schedule that includes a neutral site game against Kentucky, either a home or away game against Kansas, and a home game in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge against the likeliest of opponents, North Carolina (see Terry Hutchen’s blog post with some very sound reasoning behind that assertion), to which I’ll only add that I don’t think we’ll play NC State two years in a row, doesn’t seem out of line. Look at what Michigan State does with their schedule every year and see where it’s gotten them over the last ten years.
Our schedule next year should be tough. And we should win. So why would Crean take that stance publicly?
One word, leverage.
Calipari has gone on record, most notably before the game in December about how playing UNC, Louisville and Indiana in the non-conference season is probably too much considering the high turnover rates he has to deal with that he has absolutely no responsibility in putting in place and asking the fans which ones they’d like to see stay. The message to IU administration, “We don’t need this game.”
When Crean went to espn.com and said, “We’re not overscheduling. We’re not playing Kentucky if we’re playing Kansas.” what he was really saying to UK administration was, “We don’t need this game.”
Both are positions you have to take if you want to negotiate from a position of strength.
But here’s the truth from where I sit.
- We can play both teams and we wouldn’t be overscheduled.
- We probably should.
- Returning to a neutral site would be great for the fans and a lot of fun.
- We don’t owe it to the students. Did you see the student section for our games prior to the UK game this year, or at any time over the last four seasons? It was appalling more often than not. Plus, what’s easier for the students, a Saturday trip to Indy or Louisville, or a Saturday trip to Lexington?
- You know who we owe it to? Me. If for no other reason than someone should owe me something.