SAN DIEGO — One year after he served as a ball boy for the game between Michigan State and North Carolina aboard the USS Carl Vinson last November, Kyle Kriebel still chuckles at the memory of his futile attempts to keep the floor dry.
Each time a player dove after a loose ball and left a trail of sweat on the court, Kriebel would race out, towel or mop in hand, and attempt to wipe up the wet spot. The moisture in the air at dusk on the San Diego harbor made the task so pointless that President Obama even joked with Kriebel from his courtside seat that he had missed a few spots.
"We were out there wiping and wiping, but it was pointless," Kriebel said. "Eventually we just did it to look busy. No matter what we did, we couldn't get the moisture off the court."
Stories like that one from Kriebel illustrate why college basketball either needs to abolish the trend of holding aircraft carrier games Veteran's Day weekend or address the issues with the games that have emerged. Both Michigan State and North Carolina opted to finish the inaugural game last November despite treacherous court conditions, but the combination of wind, rain and condensation wreaked havoc on this year's three follow-up efforts.
One didn't start: The matchup between Ohio State and Marquette was canceled about an hour after it was supposed to tip off Friday night in Charleston, S.C., because condensation made the court too slick. Another didn't finish: Organizers called the game between Florida and Georgetown at halftime Friday night in Jacksonville because the floor had also become too wet.
And then there's the Battle of the Midway between Syracuse and San Diego State, which had to be postponed until Sunday afternoon as a result of rain in Friday night's forecast. A cloudless sky and the San Diego skyline made for stunning visuals Sunday, but the gusty winds on the deck of the USS Midway were so strong that the outside shooting in Syracuse's 62-49 victory wasn't quite so pretty.
A San Diego State team that relies on its perimeter game was 1 of 18 from 3-point range and 14 of 33 from the foul line. Syracuse shot a bit more respectably only because it passed up open jump shots in favor of attacking the rim. The shooting was bad enough that the pro-Aztecs crowd erupted when freshman Winston Shepard sank the game's first free throw midway through the first half after San Diego State badly missed its first four attempts.
The weather woes that plagued this year's aircraft carrier games have raised the question of whether to end them or mend them in the future.
Mike Whalen, the promoter of last year's Michigan State-North Carolina game and this year's Marquette-Ohio State matchup, told USA Today his company still plans to hold a game next year in South Carolina and that he has received calls from interested schools as recently as Saturday. Rick Schloss, who helped run Sunday's San Diego State-Syracuse matchup, said Sunday that organizers will evaluate in the coming months whether there's sufficient interest for a second Battle of the Midway.
If the response from Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim and San Diego State coach Steve Fisher was any indication, finding schools willing to participate may not be all that challenging despite this year's issues. Both Boeheim and Fisher raved about their team's experience visiting U.S. military servicemen and women and playing in a one-of-a-kind setting.
Said Fisher, "For us to be a participant was wonderful."
Said Boeheim, "I'm glad we came. I'd play in this event again. ... We wanted to play here and give the players this experience, and I'm glad we did. I think it's something people should consider doing. It's a great experience. If you play 31 games, you wouldn't want to play seven or eight of these games, but to play one game, it's not going to hurt you."
If more aircraft carrier games are played in the future, it's clear organizers are going to have to come up with a contingency plan in case the weather doesn't cooperate.
One obvious solution is starting games in the afternoon so that temperatures are warmer and condensation is less of an issue. Another is finding warm-weather host cities where wind and rain is scarce even in November. And lastly, there's the importance of creating a contingency plan so that a game doesn't get canceled if it drizzles.
Organizers were supposed to build a second auxiliary court below the deck of the USS Carl Vinson last year in case rain jeopardized the Michigan State-North Carolina contest. They didn't do it, but they lucked out when sheets of rain held off until 45 minutes after the game ended.
If rain had come again on Sunday, the only option for the Battle of the Midway would have been playing it indoors at the San Diego Sports Arena. The USS Midway is smaller than the USS Carl Vinson and lacks enough room below its deck to erect a basketball court and temporary bleachers.
If the aircraft carrier game trend ends here, its legacy will be mixed.
The inaugural game provided picturesque views, huge TV ratings and lasting memories for the players, coaches and military servicemen aboard the ship. As a result of valid concerns about player safety and the quality of play in blustery conditions, however, the novelty has quickly worn thin this year.