After four attempts to play college basketball games away on Navy ships, after three of them were postponed or outright canceled, after they all ran into financial complications, the prevailing winds indicated, for lack of a better pun, that the ship had sailed.
A decade after the last attempt to play basketball on a flight deck, there are several reports that Gonzaga and Michigan State are revisiting the concept in San Diego on Veterans Day. No deal has been finalized, but ESPN is believed to be involved.
It’s unclear where the Nov. 11 game would take place, three days after the official start of the Division I season. San Diego State and Syracuse played in 2012 on the deck of the USS Midway Museum, but officials have said they were not aware of any plans for a game in 2022.
That leaves active carriers moored across the bay at Naval Air Station North Island. The Carl Vinson aircraft carrier, site of the first Quicken Loans Carrier Classic between the state of Michigan and North Carolina in 2011, has been in port since February but could be deployed by November. The Abraham Lincoln, also based in San Diego, departed in January and recently found itself in the Philippine Sea but is expected to return in the fall. The Theodore Roosevelt, once homeported in San Diego, moved last year to Bremerton, Washington.
The proposed 2022 game, according to multiple sources, is helmed by longtime Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, who was on deck for the Carrier Classic and called it “hell of a maker. of memory”. Several schools were contacted and adopted — including SDSU and UCLA — before Gonzaga showed interest.
But if or when they try again, history tells us it’s a risky proposition.
“Ultimately,” Scott McGaugh, the former marketing director of the USS Midway Museum, told the Union-Tribune in 2013, “being 1,000 feet over the water and 50 feet (above) water, aircraft carriers might not be the best place for basketball games. It’s just a tough proposition all around.
The original 2011 event drew the highest television audience in a decade for a November college basketball game, with the No. 1 preseason national team, President Obama seated courtside , “USA” on the back of camouflage jerseys instead of players’ last names, UNC coach Roy Williams wearing cargo pants tucked into beige combat boots, a spectacular sunset, a unique backdrop and a catchy date (11/11/11).
“One of the most interesting things I’ve ever done,” Williams said afterwards. “We had some scary times. We were worried about the weather last week, but it worked out and I thought it was great.
The original plan of Morale Entertainment, the promoter of the event, was to erect a separate field and stands below deck in the hangar bay in case of wet weather. It never did and tempted fate (and a weather report that predicted a 50% chance of rain).
Mother Nature barely cooperated. Ninety minutes after top-ranked UNC beat Michigan State 67-55 in front of a crowd of 8,111 in temporary bleachers on the flight deck, the sky opened up .
The other warning flare: Michigan State shot 2 of 20 from behind the 3-point arc, and there wasn’t much wind.
Another: Morale Entertainment was sued by a New Jersey marketing company for what it claimed was unpaid commission and other fees from sponsorships it was selling.
This did not deter three copycat events on Veterans Day weekend the following year. None were played when originally scheduled and two never completed.
Weather issues pushed the game between SDSU and Syracuse from Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon, and financial troubles led to the cancellation of several promotional events surrounding it (and forced Fox Sports to write a check to prevent the game to sink completely).
Then the wind really started to blow, and SDSU was even worse than Michigan State behind the arc: 1 of 18 in a 62-49 loss.
But at least they got to the final buzzer.
Georgetown and Florida called off their game at halftime after condensation formed on the hardwood court of the amphibious assault ship Bataan in Jacksonville, Florida, and it was deemed too dangerous to continue despite players and coaches furiously trying to mop up the dampness. Hours earlier in Charleston, SC, Ohio State and Marquette called off their game on aircraft carrier Yorktown for similar reasons.
“My grandfather had a saying, ‘You learn nothing from a second mule kick,'” Mac Burdette, the executive director of the maritime museum that operates the disused Yorktown, told the Charleston Post & Courier a few months later.
“We got hit by the mule the first time and learned our lesson. We just realized that the risks of hosting an event like this far outweighed the reward.