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John Calipari fires back at Chris Mack

The fire is back in college basketball’s most heated rivalry.

Kentucky v Louisville Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The notion that the contentiousness of the Louisville-Kentucky rivalry has fallen off in the post-Pitino era is in the process of being put to bed.

Earlier this week, Cardinal head coach Chris Mack said publicly that he wasn’t sure if the annual “Battle of the Bluegrass” game would take place because of the unique circumstances surrounding ... well, everything.

“I don’t know,” Mack said of playing UK. “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.”

Mack took a similar stance when the topic of playing a previously scheduled game against old U of L rival Cincinnati was brought up.

On Friday, Calipari responded in a tone eerily similar to the one he took when engaging in wars of words with Mack’s (non-interim) predecessor.

“Chris and I have talked and he expressed his concerns,” Calipari said in a statement provided to the Courier Journal. ”While I understand the difficulty and the complications created by the pandemic, we are prepared to come to Louisville to play this season under the previously agreed upon terms, and we fully expect Louisville to honor the agreement with a return game to Rupp Arena next season.

“We are contracted to play Notre Dame and a Big 12 opponent for the SEC/Big 12 Challenge in Rupp Arena this season and we are honoring those contracts even if it is with little or no fans. It is no one’s fault we are in a pandemic. We cannot predict the future with this virus whether that’s this December or next December. My hope is they are not trying to end this series because it is important for this state that we play.”

So, then, I guess, it’s on.

Like we said yesterday, Mack’s concern is completely valid and understandable, but this is one of those situations where it’s probably just not going to matter. My hunch is that a majority of Louisville fans would accept the game being played on the double rims at Seneca Park if the alternative is it not being played at all.

Calipari, of course, knows all this, which is why he can feel safe in dishing out a pretty weighty response. The “I hope these wimps aren’t trying to get out of this series” note is an especially loaded toss of chum to the sharks.

Look, the rivalry probably needed a jolt like this, and it’s going to be a good thing in the long-term, but it probably didn’t need to happen this week with everything taking place in the city. But it’s out there now, and that’s all that matters.

The brief era of Mack-Calipari cordiality has come and gone.