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May 3, 2012The Kentucky-Indiana basketball rivalry thrived this season.
On Thursday, it died. At least for now.
The college hoops powerhouses have ended the series after a dispute over the sites for future games.
Indiana wanted to continue the rivalry as a home-and-home series with games at Rupp Arena and Assembly Hall. The game has been played on campus sites since the 2006-07 season.
Kentucky sought a return to the neutral-site format of previous years. From 1992-2005, the Wildcats and Hoosiers alternated between games in Louisville and Indianapolis.
IU announced the end of the series in a news release Thursday.
"I hate it for the fans, especially with two Top Five teams coming back next year," UK Director of Athletics Mitch Barnhart said Thursday. "It's disappointing, but it wasn't an unwillingness to play on our part."
Instead, Barnhart said, the schools reached an impasse in site negotiations.
"I think that we wanted to keep it at a neutral-site spot," he said. "It gave us a chance to sort of return to some of the game's roots and play it in Louisville, Freedom Hall or Yum! Center or something like that, and there was not an interest on their part to do that."
In a statement released late Thursday afternoon, Barnhart said, "We were under the impression that we were in continued negotiations with Indiana University on signing a two-year contract to play the annual game at neutral sites.
After the NCAA Championships, both schools verbally agreed in principle to play for two years at neutral sites (December 8, 2012 and December 7 or 14, 2013) and agreed to revisit campus sites upon completion of the two-year deal."
Recent public comments from IU led UK "to believe that our previous verbal agreement could be in jeopardy, but at no point did we ever have any mutual discussions with Indiana to end the series," Barnhart said in the release.
Barnhart was noncommittal when asked if UK and IU will renew discussions about the series next offseason.
In the IU release, Hoosiers coach Tom Crean said, "We have a strong belief that this series should be played on campus and is something that should be beneficial for both teams."
UK coach John Calipari was not available for comment, but he told ESPN.com that Kentucky was willing to play the series at Lucas Oil Field in Indianapolis.
"They don't want to play two games in the state of Indiana, which I'm fine with," Calipari told ESPN. "There are a lot of people who want to play us."
Calipari told ESPN that UK was unwilling to continue a home-and-home. He also told ESPN that Kentucky still has a date at Lucas Oil Field for next season and will try to schedule a different opponent there.
"I don't think (Calipari) was really thrilled about going back to Bloomington, to be honest with you, and I think wanted to go back to the neutral-neutral scene, and that's OK," Barnhart said.
Barnhart downplayed the impact of Indiana fan behavior during and after the Hoosiers' win against UK in December at Assembly Hall as a factor in the decision. IU fans reportedly taunted Kentucky fans and stormed the court when the game ended on a Christian Watford three-pointer at the buzzer.
That was one of two Kentucky-Indiana thrillers in 2011-12. The Wildcats beat the Hoosiers 102-90 in an NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 game in Atlanta.
Kentucky and Indiana have played every season since 1969-70, with games in Lexington, Louisville, Bloomington and Indianapolis over that span.
"Playing on campus enables our students to attend these marquee games which we believe is a great component of the overall college experience," Indiana Vice President and Director of Athletics Fred Glass said in a release. "Playing in the historic venues that are Assembly Hall and Rupp Arena is also a tremendous experience for our student-athletes."
Barnhart said UK's stance was not revenue-driven, though playing at neutral sites would present "equal if not better" income, he said.
"But's not going to happen," Barnhart said. "We'll just have to regroup, figure out where we go from here. There's plenty of folks that would love to play Kentucky, and we'll figure that out. We won't be without a schedule, I assure you of that."
That schedule is unlikely to include another recent rivalry series.
When asked about a report that the Kentucky-North Carolina series also is ending, Barnhart said "I'd say that right now that's closer to being true than not."
Larry Gallo, North Carolina's senior associate athletics director, told ESPN on Thursday that there haven't been discussions with UK "in a while," and that "there is no intent" for the Tar Heels to play Kentucky in 2012-13.