Could we really have a “full” men’s college basketball season in which Louisville and Kentucky don’t square off against one another?
There were hints from the UK side earlier this week that it was possible, and then on Wednesday, Chris Mack confirmed outright that the Cards facing the Cats in 2020-21 was far from a done deal.
At the heart of Mack’s concern is Louisville hosting Kentucky in a year where no fans are allowed inside the KFC Yum Center, and then the series returning to normal in a year with the Cards having to once again play inside a fully packed Rupp Arena.
“I don’t know,” Mack said about the status of the Battle of the Bluegrass. “Where is the equity of Kentucky coming here in front of no fans and then having to go back to Rupp Arena in front of 21,000 fans? But I recognize and we recognize the best rivalry in all of college basketball. If there was somehow we could do this at a neutral site, again that’s without talking to Kentucky and what their scheduling holds.”
NEW: I asked Louisville head coach Chris Mack if the Cardinals will face Kentucky this season. His response: pic.twitter.com/p54nrkSCFE— John Fanta (@John_Fanta) September 23, 2020
On the Kentucky side of things, the Wildcats have already confirmed six non-conference games — Kansas, Georgia Tech, Notre Dame, Hartford, Detroit and Richmond — leaving them just one slot available. No one at UK has given any indication that this spot is being reserved for Louisville.
Kentucky isn’t the only previously scheduled rival that the Cards might no longer face this season. U of L had been scheduled to resume its rivalry with Cincinnati on Friday, Nov. 13, a date which now sits 12 days before the new official start date of the 2020-21 season.
“We were supposed to play our second game of the season against those guys at their place,” Mack said. “Talking to John Brannen, how fair is it for us to play their home game in front of literally no fans and then have him return the game?”
Could this be posturing to try and push Cincinnati and/or Kentucky into joining the Louisville bubble? It’s possible. But regardless of the motives here, Louisville needs to play Kentucky in basketball. It’s as simple as that.
I understand Mack’s concerns and completely recognize their validity, but he also needs to understand (and I’m sure he does) that this line of thinking — regardless of how rational it is — isn’t going to play with fans on either side of this rivalry (rational thought rarely does) including his own.
Whether it happens here, there or in a remote location in Alaska, Louisville needs to play Kentucky in basketball. Losing the football game has been painful enough. Pandemic or not, this would be sacrilege.