IU, Kentucky in talks to renew storied basketball rivalry

With temperatures warming and the first flowers starting to sprout here in Indiana, IU Athletic Director Fred Glass is feeling optimistic that maybe—just maybe—the Hoosiers’ hoops rivalry with the University of Kentucky can be renewed.

There appears to be reason for optimism. Kentucky officials confirmed this week to the IBJ that conversations between the two schools have recently taken place about reviving one of the biggest rivalries in men's college basketball.

Though Glass said nothing is imminent, he’s hopeful a deal can get done.

“I personally would like to renew the conversations,” Glass told IBJ. “I think the two teams should play in December.”

If a deal is to get done for next season, it will have to be signed in the next 90 days. Both schools are expected to announce their 2015-16 schedules in August.

There still seems to be at least one major sticking point. UK officials—and Coach John Calipari in particular—want the games played at a neutral site or sites, and IU officials want at least some of the games played on campus.

But the relationship between the two sides is definitely warming.

“The [Kentucky and IU] basketball staffs have had some general discussion about playing. Up to this point, no contests have been scheduled," UK Deputy Athletic Director DeWayne Peevy told IBJ this week.

Glass told IBJ he’s willing to play some of the UK games at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, but also wants to play some at Assembly Hall in Bloomington.

Calipari said three years ago that he’d be willing to play all the games at Lucas Oil Stadium, but UK Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart said in 2012 the Wildcats coach didn’t want to return to Bloomington.

Glass’ current willingness to consider playing some games in Lucas Oil Stadium appears to be a change in direction from when talks between the two schools broke down in 2012.

But sources close to UK said Calipari may still have reservations about playing any games at Assembly Hall. 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.

When Calipari became UK head coach in 2009, he almost immediately started pushing to get the games back to being played at neutral sites. Playing in Indianapolis is attractive to Calipari because the game serves as a great recruiting tool for the UK program.

In fact, Calipari in 2012 said he’d be willing to consider playing all the IU-UK games at Lucas Oil Stadium.

IU officials aren’t eager to give the Wildcats a higher profile in Indy than they already have. UK has had solid success recruiting central Indiana—known as a high school hoops hotbed—most recently snagging Tech High School grad Trey Lyles in 2014.

The neutral site games—especially when they’re played in a massive venue like the 70,000-seat Lucas Oil Stadium—can be quite lucrative for both teams. Glass, however, insists he wants some of the games played in Bloomington where IU students can enjoy the game and be a part of and add to the electric atmosphere.

UK officials likely feel emboldened to ask for more in negotiations with IU—and other non-conference opponents—given the Wildcats success in recent years. Kentucky won the NCAA championship in 2012, was runner-up in 2014 and made the Final Four after an undefeated regular season this year.

But there’s no denying the electricity when these two programs play. The rivalry dates back to the 1920s. The two teams played every season from 1969 to 2011. The last game in the rivalry was played at Assembly Hall when IU beat the then No. 1 ranked Wildcats by a point on a last-second shot.

IU supporters speculate that bitter loss elevated Calipari’s desire not to play in Bloomington. Glass is ready to let bygones be bygones.

“Things evolve. Hopefully, things have cooled down, passions have cooled since our last conversation and we can revisit this,” Glass told IBJ. “I’d definitely like to make another run at [putting a deal together to restore the rivalry]. Hope springs eternal.”

No one wants it more than IU and UK fans, who love to hate each other. The desire to get the rivalry game back on the schedule is an especially hot topic with Hoosier fans. And it appears Glass has felt the heat from that burning desire.

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