September 21st, 2014

Pogue’s Ponderings: Call it the basketball doubleheader that wasn’t

by Greg Pogue

There will be a men’s basketball doubleheader played this weekend in Nashville involving two Sun Belt Conference rivals.  Thing is, the games at Bridgestone Arena will be played on separate nights – Friday night with MTSU versus Vanderbilt and Saturday night with Western Kentucky playing Louisville.

Unlike two previous doubleheaders in the same building that featured MTSU and WKU playing host to marquee opponents, the athletic directors this time around viewed the event – uh, make that events – differently this time around.

“I wanted a doubleheader (on the same night),” MTSU athletic director Chris Massaro said. “It is a perfect scenario with us and Vandy and Louisville and Western. I just think one big event is better than two separate games.”

Which falls into the category of if it’s not broken, then why fix it? Both MTSU and WKU have promoted the Nashville games as part of their season-ticket packages to resounding success.

Four seasons year ago, MTSU played Memphis and WKU played Tennessee at Bridgestone Arena to a nearly-full building. A year later, it was WKU playing Vanderbilt and MTSU dueling Tennessee. Again, it was a huge crowd and a resounding success.

“Playing two games in one night gives you an NCAA Tournament-like atmosphere that really prepares you for conference play and, hopefully, postseason play,” Massaro said. “It is an electric atmosphere having four teams and two games on the same night in the same building.

“You have four publicity machines working for the same event rather than just two.”  From the WKU perspective, athletic director Todd Stewart opted to play Louisville on a separate evening than the MTSU-Vandy game instead of a doubleheader this time around for two reasons. One was desire to make it a marquee game for their season-ticket holders; the other was out of contractual obligation to Louisville.

“The Nashville doubleheader has been effective for both of us,” Stewart said of WKU’s past arrangement with MTSU to play games at Bridgestone Arena on the same night. “This year, though, we really don’t have a marquee home schedule as we have had in the past.  “This was the one signature game for our fans that was enhanced by having it as a stand-alone game in Nashville.”

Also in the equation is that when WKU renegotiated its current four-game contract with Louisville, it included playing two games in Louisville, one at WKU’s Diddle Arena and one in Nashville. But the caveat Louisville placed on the deal was that the game in Nashville had to be a stand-alone event.

To get Louisville in such a deal where it would come to play a game in Bowling Green, it was prudent for WKU to acquiesce and schedule the game separately from MTSU’s game this time around in Bridgestone Arena.

Ironically, this might well be the last season that MTSU and WKU will be Sun Belt Conference rivals. MTSU will depart the Sun Belt for Conference USA either next school year or, for sure, the one after that. It reminds of the days when they were both in the Ohio Valley Conference and
WKU departed for the Sun Belt in the early 1980s.

“It’s nothing personal at all,” Stewart said of the decision to not team with MTSU for a doubleheader in Nashville this time around. “No. 1, we had what the contract called for with the Louisville game. And we didn’t have a marquee home game in Bowling Green for men’s basketball this season, which is unusual.”

Both athletic directors said they are willing to continue the conversation about staging men’s basketball doubleheaders in Nashville, even when they are in separate conferences. They each understand the importance of growing their brand in the Music City.

“We like to come to Nashville every year, whether it is basketball or football,” Stewart said while noting WKU played Kentucky in football at LP Field in 2011. “It has been very effective in the past. This year, not playing the doubleheader with Middle, was just a unique situation.”

MTSU wraps up its four-game men’s basketball series with Vandy this season. Massaro said he is appreciative of schools like Vandy, Belmont, TSU and Austin Peay that schedule other teams from the area.

“The local games bring a lot of excitement,” Massaro said. “I am always appreciative of area coaches who do play. I think college basketball in our area is tremendous. “These are great games to showcase it.”

Greg Pogue, former executive sports editor at The DNJ, is host of the morning sports talk show on 102.5-FM The Game ESPN Radio Nashville. Email him at GregPogue@1025thegame.com.

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