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By LARRY VAUGHT
John Calipari says he was just trying to follow in the footsteps of former Indiana coach Bobby Knight — who has been a huge Calipari critic in recent years — when he lobbied for the Kentucky-Indiana series to be played at neutral sites.
“I wanted to do what Bobby Knight did. He decided the series should be at neutral sites. When they did it, it was huge,” said the UK coach Tuesday. “I liked the idea because we had to move someone to a neutral site. The logical team was them. We could not find a place in Kentucky (to play). To make it more beneficial to them, we offered to play two years in their state at Lucas Oil Stadium. But we are not doing more than two-year contracts.”
That offer to return the series to neutral sites was rejected and the annual UK-Indiana series has ended after last year’s buzzer-beating win by the Hoosiers in Bloomington that resulted in a court-storming by happy fans. Indiana countered with an offer to play two years at a neutral site and then a two-year home-and-home deal that UK rejected which set off a flurry of criticism nationally of UK and Calipari.
“When we schedule, we are doing it for us, not for anybody else,” Calipari said. “Schedule for America. We are not scheduling for America. We are doing it for us.”
He went on to note that former UK coach Adolph Rupp played eight neutral site games across the country in 1948 to make UK a national program and that both former UK coaches Rick Pitino and Tubby Smith bought into neutral site games and played them annually. He explained how UK was one of few programs that could go to “football stadiums” to play and fill the site with fans.
“That makes the purists mad. We are not scheduling for the purists. I am scheduling for my basketball team,” Calipari said. “Neutral games are good. We are going to have 18 league games (an increase of two SEC games), including Missouri and Texas A&M, two NCAA teams (last season).”
He said he told Indiana coach Tom Crean, a long-time friend, to “move on” from the UK-Indiana scheduling controversy. He said Louisville, Indiana and North Carolina don’t play each other and really have no reasons why they don’t. Calipari said he wanted to play Indiana and does not “know why we are not playing” any more.
He also didn’t buy Indiana’s theory that neutral site games in Indianapolis would be unfair to students who wanted to attend the game.
“They are only two hours away. Are they that poor that they cannot get to the building? Our students are going. They would get up there,” Calipari said.
However, Calipari wasn’t through talking about Kentucky-Indiana.
“I am scheduling for us. Not anybody else,” the Kentucky coach said. “We offered a two-year schedule in their state. I wasn’t mad or mean. We have got North Carolina back on the schedule (in 2013). We are having a dialogue with Duke. You have no idea how bad I want to do a tripleheader (with women’s basketball and football) and just overrun a city.”
He said other basketball coaches like the idea of a tripleheader and he’s already talked to a “couple of teams” about tripleheaders that would have to be in November when the UK football team has an open SEC date and a neutral site is available.
“It’s not easy or everybody would play tripleheaders,” Calipari said.
He said UK football coach Joker Phillips told him just “not to make it Notre Dame” when lining up a tripleheader.