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Ben Smith

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IU, Kentucky both foolish

So, somebody’s chicken here, right?

John Calipari has a 51-game winning streak at Rupp Arena in his pocket, and no way (or so goes the narrative north of the Ohio River) he wants it to end against Indiana. He also hated losing in Assembly Hall last year. Thus, the whole why-don’t-we-play-this-at-a-neutral-site thing.

Tom Crean knows he got away with one in the Hall last winter (the narrative in Bluegrass country), and is afraid to give up that advantage every other year. Thus, the whole on-campus-or-bust thing.

One man comes with two sides and an order of biscuits. The other’s original recipe or extra crispy, your choice.

Both of them, and their entire administrations, will soon be appearing in “Dumb and Dumber: The College Years.”

Seriously? You’re ending the best thing in college basketball this past season because you can’t decide whose driveway to play in?

This is beyond ridiculous, which is why there’s such a distinct aroma to all of it. Tom Crean isn’t chicken, for one thing. Neither’s Calipari. And Fred Glass and Mitch Barnhart, the two athletic directors, didn’t get where they are by flunking basic arithmetic.

In other words: Indiana-Kentucky is not only the college hoops version of a royal ball – that’s 13 national titles between them you’re seeing when they share a floor – it also makes both schools buckets of money, no matter where it’s played. So just because Glass says Indiana won’t renew its contract with UK doesn’t mean Indiana won’t renew its contract with UK.

If it’s what it smells like, though – a baldly transparent ploy to force Kentucky’s hand – it’s risky to the point of being foolish, so we’re back to Square One. Dumb vs. Dumber. Empty posturing over what’s best for both college hoops and the fan bases of both schools. A game of chicken, or at least chickens.

The shame in all of this is it could be easily enough resolved, if both schools were willing. But Indiana has backed Kentucky into a corner, and Kentucky has dug in its heels. And college basketball is the poorer for it.

IU-Kentucky, after all, gave college hoops its signature moment of last season, aka Watford For The Win. And it gave it the signature game of the NCAA tournament, UK’s 102-90 win in the Sweet Sixteen.

Now that goes away, at least from all appearances, because neither school is willing to take a step toward the easy and obvious compromise – i.e., alternate neutral games with on-campus games, since the series has featured both at one time or another.

Calipari told ESPN.com that Kentucky would be willing to play in Lucas Oil Stadium, and the fact IU said no means “they don’t want to play us.” Crean countered by saying in a statement IU has “a strong belief” the games should be played on-campus.

And so, no go for now. It is, frankly, the silliest disservice to the betterment of college athletics since Notre Dame and Michigan discontinued their football series for decades because Knute Rockne couldn’t get along with Fielding Yost.

“Bunch of cheaters,” Michigan said, or words to that effect.

“I know you are, but what am I?” Notre Dame replied, or words to that effect.

And Indiana and Kentucky?

Bunch of knuckleheads. You know they are.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.

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