Dribble Handoff: How to settle Kentucky vs. Louisville scheduling controversy for John Calipari and Chris Mack

Give Kentucky and Louisville credit, because they’ve managed to make the disaster that is nonconference basketball scheduling amid the COVID-19 pandemic entertaining. With Cardinals’ coach Chris Mack advocating for the game to be played at a neutral site this season and Wildcats’ coach John Calipari pushing back, a new rift has developed in an already great college basketball rivalry.

Ultimately, it’s in everyone’s best interest for the game to be played this season, no matter where. But the public feuding over the logistics has provided excellent fodder for college basketball fans and media starved for a diversion from the daily stream of news about which preseason tournament is the latest to be called off or dramatically altered in some way.

It’s also added a layer of intrigue to the next meeting between the teams. Calipari suggested in a tweet that the game is now scheduled for Dec. 26. But there is no signed agreement for any date yet, according to a Louisville spokesperson. So for this week’s dribble handoff, our writers are approaching the situation with their own ideas for what should happen with this year’s Kentucky-Louisville game by responding to the following prompt:

If you were appointed Bluegrass State basketball czar and given full authority to dictate how Kentucky and Louisville proceed with their series amid their recent spat, what would you do?

Play at a neutral site this season

It appears, at this point, that the back-and-forth is (probably) over. Barring a change of plans, Kentucky and Louisville will likely play the day after Christmas inside the Yum! Center. Once Kentucky coach John Calipari declined to budge, and shifted the public pressure to Chris Mack, the Louisville coach didn’t really have any great options. So he recorded a tremendous video, got his shots in, but was ultimately forced to play the game when and where Calipari wanted.

Point, Coach Cal.

But if the question is how I would handle it if left in charge and allowed to settle things, the truth is that I’d make Kentucky and Louisville play on a neutral court, in front of no fans, until the pandemic is behind us and capacity crowds are again allowed. That seems like a fair resolution. In other words, because last season’s game that was played under normal circumstances was held at Rupp Arena, the next Kentucky-Louisville game to be played under normal circumstances would be held at the Yum! Center. Everything in between would be neutral-court games. It’s a plan that would ensure competitive balance in the annual rivalry, allow the annual rivalry to be played annually without exception, and prevent Louisville from missing out on the kind of ticket revenue that Kentucky secured last season. Again, it’s the most fair resolution in these unprecedented times. So that’s the way I’d resolve it. But, obviously, I’m not actually in charge; Calipari, with the contract on his side, is. So the game will be played the day after Christmas in Louisville with no fans, fairness be damned. — Gary Parrish

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Double home-and-homes

First, another round of applause for Chris Mack. Not just because he upped the ante for the Kentucky-Louisville rivalry — and we are all appreciative of that — but because his video reading was essentially flawless. The timing, playing the camera, the tone, the setups, reveals and payoffs. Just a magnificent performance. And to think this is happening between the Louisville coach and the Kentucky coach. We’re blessed. 

Now, what would I do if I had full say over this rivalry? Parrish’s suggestion is the most reasonable. And easily doable. But, absent rationality taking over this dilemma, I’d say this should be negotiated into the contracts to keep the series going, but allowing Louisville to get fans in its building first before Kentucky. 

2020: Kentucky plays at Louisville without fans in the stands, as is scheduled

2021: Kentucky AGAIN plays at Louisville under the circumstances fans ARE in the stands. And then:

2022: Kentucky hosts Louisville

2023: Kentucky hosts Louisville

2024 and beyond: series once again alternates between sites every year

Of course that changes if fans aren’t allowed in the stands: In 2021, the series would continue with alternating sites each season. So in 2021 Kentucky would host without fan attendance, and then in 2022 it would go back to Louisville. 

To repeat: if fans are allowed in 2021, Louisville again hosts UK. Then, for 2022 and 2023, Kentucky gets back-to-back years with home games against the Wildcats. That’s a pretty good deal, right, Kentucky fans? This enables Louisville to be next in line to have a true home court advantage in the series while equitably allowing for Kentucky to get the return on the back end. Short of playing this on a neutral court, it seems like a reasonable, and creative, solution. — Matt Norlander

Play a best-of-five series

There’s been enough hand-wringing over this series to last a decade. Will they reschedule in 2020? Will the date be Dec. 26, as Coach Cal has indicated?

The real solution I propose as the czar of the bluegrass basketball scene comes in the form of a question: Why are we thinking so small?

Let’s lean into this beef and come up with not just one single rescheduled game, but rescheduled games. Let’s go with a full series of games over the span of two weeks to settle this once and for all. Give the people what they want.

Kentucky and Louisville proudly tout this as the best rivalry in college hoops. Even non-bluegrassers mostly agree. Setting up a best-of-five series would be a win for both programs to earn national exposure on multiple occasions, and it’d be a win for college hoops fans, too, who crave chaos. With John Calipari and Chris Mack at the center of it all, we’d be guaranteed at least some. Hold the games at a neutral site and let’s get this on the books. — Kyle Boone

State tournament will settle the debate

This court orders that both programs put aside self-interests and host the first-ever Kentucky College Basketball Classic featuring the state’s eight Division I basketball programs. Though some associated with these two programs may view this verdict as a punishment, it is the court’s belief that this ruling will result in the ultimate betterment of basketball in the commonwealth.

Here’s how it will work:

Louisville will host a four-team tournament featuring itself, Murray State, Western Kentucky and Bellarmine, a first-year Division I member based in Louisville. Kentucky will host a four-team tournament featuring itself, Morehead State, Northern Kentucky and Eastern Kentucky.

The winners of each four-team tournament will then face each other in Louisville. If it is indeed Louisville and Kentucky playing each other in the championship game, there will be more than just a state championship at stake in the tournament finale. If the Wildcats win the game, next year’s Kentucky-Louisville game will take place at Kentucky. If Louisville wins the game, then next year’s game will take place at Louisville.

This proposal benefits everyone in the state. For one thing, it will help all eight programs get nonconference games, as there will be third-place games played in both four-team tournaments. Yes, Kentucky would likely end up playing a Quadrant 4 game against EKU or Morehead State, which might be cause for dismay considering what happened to the Wildcats against lowly Evansville last season. But they would also be likely to play Northern Kentucky in what would likely be a Quadrant 3 game for the Wildcats.

Louisville would likely end up with two Quadrant 3 games as both Murray State and Western Kentucky finished in the top-160 of the NET last season.

Keeping it in-state reduces the number of COVID-19 related hurdles that are derailing multi-team events everywhere as the regional pod setup will minimize the number of overnight stays required for participation and ensure uniformity in adherence to state protocols. The furthest any team would likely have to travel for this event would be Murray State driving three and a half hours to Louisville. Everyone else will be within 115 miles of their pod destination.

Finally, it would settle the Kentucky-Louisville dispute on the court in a meaningful way. If Louisville wins, it gets Chris Mack’s wish of playing next year’s game in front of a raucous home crowd. If Kentucky wins, it gets John Calipari’s wish for next year’s game to occur at Kentucky as originally scheduled. And if neither team wins the tournament, then they’ve both got much bigger issues to worry about — David Cobb

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