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Kentucky negotiates with Duke, schedules future series with Baylor, North Carolina

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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John Calipari and Anthony Davis (Getty Images)

Just because Indiana opted not to play Kentucky at off-campus venues for the foreseeable future doesn't mean the Wildcats can't find other high-profile opponents willing to schedule a game at a neutral site.

John Calipari announced a handful of big-event games for upcoming seasons Wednesday including a multi-year series with Duke, a resumption of the North Carolina rivalry and a matchup in Cowboys Stadium against Baylor.

"When we schedule, I want to create experiences, not just games," Calipari wrote on his website. "The thing about Kentucky basketball is it's passed down from father to son. I want to schedule events that grandfathers and grandsons will be talking about 25 years from now. That's part of what Kentucky basketball is about; part of what has made this place so unique."

There's still no excuse for Kentucky and Indiana not reaching a compromise to preserve one of college basketball's most significant regional rivalries, but nobody can accuse the Wildcats of ducking top competition.

Following a one-year hiatus next season in the series with North Carolina, Kentucky will once again play the Tar Heels and Louisville either at home or on the road in alternating years. The next two seasons, the Wildcats will also participate in the Champions Classic, next season against Duke in Atlanta and the following season against Michigan State in Chicago.

The potential series against Duke is welcome news considering the two schools have built a rivalry based on their five NCAA tournament matchups yet have only faced one another sporadically in the regular season.

Calipari wrote that he and Mike Krzyzewski are still ironing out the details, but the series would be played at neutral sites on the same weekend every year. Considering Duke's history of playing annually in the New York area, expect the Barclay's Center in Brooklyn or Madison Square Garden to be in the rotation.

The final game Calipari mentioned is a two-year series with Baylor, whom Kentucky defeated in the Elite Eight this past March. The 2013-14 game would be a first-of-its-kind doubleheader with the Kentucky and Baylor women's teams facing one another in the early game at Cowboys Stadium in front of a crowd that Calipari believes could break college basketball's attendance record.

"It is important that we play in at least one if not two football stadiums every year to prepare our players for NCAA Tournament venues," Calipari said. "Not every program can play a regular-season game in a stadium like we can.

"I'm convinced we would have won the title two seasons ago if we would have played in a dome during the regular season. Our guys weren't prepared for it. I like the fact that both the Duke game at the Georgia Dome in 2012 and the Baylor game at Cowboys Stadium in 2013 are the Final Four sites for those years."

The trend toward neutral-site nonconference games in college basketball is nothing new, but it's not as healthy for the sport as on-campus showdowns in front of rabid student sections. Furthermore, it didn't seem to hurt Kentucky last season that it lost a true road game in December at Indiana or that it didn't play in a football stadium until the Final Four at the Superdome.

Nonetheless, it's Calipari's job to do what's best for his program not the sport — and he has earned the benefit of the doubt from his fan base with back-to-back Final Four berths and a national championship.

"There may be years that we add teams to the schedule based on our league and our team, but generally speaking, this is what we'll do," Calipari wrote. "We will play a national nonconference home game and a national nonconference road game to prepare us for the 18 SEC games, as well as three to four Kentucky experiences at neutral sites, including one or two at football stadiums that will prepare us for the NCAA Tournament and our fans will have access to."

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