Mark Few and John Calipari got together for a video call during Kentucky’s open practice on Tuesday and publicly announced a “home-and-home” series between Gonzaga and Kentucky for the 22-23 and 23-24 seasons.
This is no doubt a monumental scheduling achievement for both sides. These two teams are very likely going to be ranked inside the top-five for both of these games – making each contest must watch college hoops action in the non-conference season.
However – there is a problem. It doesn’t look like this series will be a true home-and-home series, in the sense that this year’s game is expected to be held at the Spokane Arena instead of inside Gonzaga’s home at The Kennel, at least according to Jeff Goodman of Stadium:
Much like the Gonzaga – Alabama “home and home” series, which featured a game at the new Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle last year – over 200 miles away from Gonzaga’s “home” – this is shaping up to be another instance where a high profile opponent ducks playing Gonzaga on their actual turf. Instead, it appears these two teams will play in a bigger, less intimate setting filled with more casual (and wealthier) fans as opposed to the screaming, passionate, potentially inebriated students who would have otherwise lined the sideline, mere inches from Wildcat players.
Of course, with Alabama the return game is also not being played in the same city, as the Zags and Crimson Tide are scheduled to face off this season in Birmingham rather than playing at the Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa.
While next year’s return game against Kentucky is far from finalized, the language in the video of Few and Calipari hammering out the details is pretty clear:
“You’re the No. 1 team in the country and we’ve got to go to you,” Calipari said. “Let me ask you this. Maybe this is crazy. Will you come back here the following year, or are you just saying it’s a one-game shot in Spokane?”
“We will absolutely come back,” Few said. “We’ve never played in Rupp Arena and it would be awesome.”
We’ve never played in RUPP ARENA. Few makes it clear, crystal clear, that his vision for this series involves playing the back-end at Rupp Arena in front of the Kentucky faithful. So why can’t Cal and the Wildcats play in The Kennel?
To be clear, I doubt this is a situation where Few desperately wants the game to be played on campus and Calipari and his staff are saying no. It’s definitely true that Calipari ducked playing at The Kennel when he was the head coach at Memphis over a decade ago, but Few has been known to push for more seating/more ticket sales for big games like this, and it could just as easily be both of the coaches pushing for this game to be played at the arena, which holds about twice as many fans as The Kennel.
Still, it’s very obvious something is lost when these games are played in front of a solely (high) paying audience instead of the students. For starters, college basketball is by and large for the students. It’s bragging rights. It’s camaraderie. School spirit. All of that.
And while that doesn’t mean alumni can’t or shouldn’t be rooting just as hard as the students, it robs current students of the opportunity to attend a top-tier sporting event on their school’s campus. It’s a bonding experience that creates memories that will last a lifetime. Camping out for days to see Gonzaga get run out of their own gym by Draymond Green and the Michigan State Spartans is a memory I’ll hold on to forever, even if the game was a disappointment because of the loss and because Eminem, despite hours of rumors, didn’t show up.
But now, when Gonzaga worked extraordinarily hard for two decades in order to be able to schedule games like this, teams continue to push to play the Zags anywhere but at The Kennel. Ticket revenue is probably the primary factor, a sad statement on how capitalism has infiltrated college sports at such a pervasive level, a level which will be impossible to come back from.
Fear is going to be an oft-discussed rationale as well, specifically the notion that coach Cal is afraid a game in the intimate, loud, boisterous McCarthey Athletic Center will result in an L for his squad.
Kentucky fans will defend their coach and push back on that notion, but if this series does result in one game at the Spokane Arena and the return game at Rupp Arena, any further arguments (from any fanbase) that Few and/or the Zags are scared, are ducking teams/arenas/etc. will fall on very deaf ears. At least for me. My ears will only re-open if Eminem shows up.
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.