John Calipari, despite Louisville’s wishes, won’t play rivalry game at neutral site

Ryan Young
·3 min read

John Calipari isn’t budging.

The longtime Kentucky coach doesn’t want to play Louisville anywhere other than the KFC Yum! Center this season — even amid the COVID-19 pandemic and Louisville coach Chris Mack’s desire to play the game at a neutral site.

"Chris and I have talked and he expressed his concerns," Calipari said in a statement on Friday, via ESPN. "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."

Chris Mack: Moving the game is only fair

The NCAA approved a plan earlier this month to start the men’s and women’s college basketball seasons on Nov. 25 — something that was in jeopardy due to the coronavirus, which drastically altered the college sports calendar across the country.

Conferences are still working to put together their respective schedules. The SEC announced on Friday that its conference play will start on Dec. 29 and 30, and include an 18-game schedule, according to

A date has not officially been set for the annual Kentucky-Louisville game.

While there is still a lot to be ironed out logistically, Mack said earlier this week that he doesn’t think having to play Kentucky in an empty or near-empty arena — something that will likely be required due to the coronavirus — is fair. They’ll have to travel to Rupp Arena next year, something he said will be significantly harder with thousands of fans present.

"Where is the equity of Kentucky coming here in front of no fans and then having to go back to Rupp Arena [next season] in front of 21,000 fans?" Mack said on “The Full Court Press” podcast. "But I recognize and we recognize, man, the best rivalry — I know I'm biased — 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."

Calipari — who is set to enter his 12th season leading the Wildcats — doesn’t want a neutral site, as it’s not his or anyone’s fault that the coronavirus has altered the sports calendar. Most importantly, however, he wants to ensure that the series lives on when things get back to normal.

"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," Calipari said, via ESPN. "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."

Louisville coach Chris Mack and Kentucky coach John Calipari
Kentucky coach John Calipari wants to play the matchup with Louisville this season at the KFC Yum! Center as scheduled. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

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