INDIANAPOLIS – 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.
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“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.
Still, 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.
Kentucky believes the schools could make more money by playing in larger, off-campus arenas, something Hoosiers officials also acknowledge. But Indiana believes moving games to neutral sites does not 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.
The debate 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.
Neither school has said how they will replace the opening date.
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 Kentucky coach John Calipari also are long-time 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.
Last year, the border-state rivals played two of the season’s most memorable games — Indiana’s 73-72 win in Bloomington and a 102-90 shootout at the regional semifinals in Atlanta, which served as a springboard for Kentucky’s latest title run.
The Hoosiers and Wildcats also have met three other times in postseason play since 1969, all on neutral courts. Kentucky is 3-1 in the four postseason meetings.
These are two of the nation’s most prestigious basketball schools. Both are ranked among the nation’s top 15 programs in victories, with Kentucky topping the list. Only UCLA (11) has won more national titles than the Wildcats (eight) and those are the only two programs that have more championship banners than Indiana (five). North Carolina also has won five national titles.