The Gonzaga Bulldogs and Michigan State Spartans are set to revive the Armed Forces classic by playing each other on Veteran’s Day, with the hosting venue being an aircraft carrier in San Diego.
Opinion regarding the carrier games is split -with many fans loving the unique atmosphere and/or patriotism these games provide, while others are concerned about the safety of the players and the quality of basketball being played on a surface not designed for this kind of event.
Gonzaga and Michigan State will be the first game on an aircraft carrier in a decade. There have been four total games played (well, games started) in this environment, all taking place between 2011 and 2012 as part of the “Carrier Classic” series.
The first game took place between Michigan State and North Carolina on 11/11/11 – and boy did it set the bar high. Beautiful weather, including a jaw-dropping sunset, set the tone for a celebration of fallen service men and women and a night of excellent basketball. It was a game that received a pseudo Presidential Seal of Approval, as Barack Obama attended to help kick off the season.
So it is no surprise everyone else wanted in on the action, and in 2012 three more games on carriers were put on the calendar. Florida and Georgetown met on 11/9/12 off the coast of Jacksonville, while the same day just up the Atlantic coast a game between Marquette and Ohio State got under way in South Carolina.
Unfortunately, neither game made it to the final buzzer due to the slippery court conditions. Preparation was made to help mitigate these issues as much as possible, but playing outdoors on a ship that is docked over water makes it pretty difficult to avoid wet and slippery conditions.
Two days after the dual cancellations we had another success story, this one between Syracuse and San Diego State on the USS Midway in San Diego.
If there is hope for those anxious Gonzaga fans, it is that this type of game has only really had success in San Diego – and they have had 10 years to come up with innovative ways to make this work.
Gonzaga fans will of course remember the debacle in 2015 between the Zags and Pittsburgh, which ended at halftime due to slippery conditions after the team travelled all the way to Okinawa. That game took place at Camp Foster on a temporary basketball court, and while it was inside it was in a building not ventilated properly for the action – hence the halftime cancellation.
Mark Few, Tom Izzo, and the folks at the USS Abraham Lincoln are no doubt aware of the history of these types of games, and they will do whatever they can to make sure this game is safe and smooth for everyone – and lasts a full 40 minutes.
Andy hosts the Locked on Zags and Locked on College Basketball podcasts, and serves Locked On in a marketing/digital content creator role as well. He lives just outside Portland with his wife Jenna and dog, Tillie.