Don’t Rock The Boat: Why it’s too soon to give up on the Carrier Classic

Doug Freeman
November 22, 2012

The President of the United States doesn’t attend just any college basketball game, so when he showed up at the inaugural Carrier Classic on Nov. 11, 2011 – the first outdoor college basketball game aboard an aircraft carrier – it dominated much of the talk surrounding the game. The Commander-in-Chief’s presence coupled with the amazing sightlines, an intriguing matchup and a ceremonial sunset pause for the retiring of the colors ensured that the game was met largely with positive reviews and resulted in a reincarnation of the game this season.

Lost in all the fanfare were the warning signs of an impending disaster. The game between the Michigan State Spartans and the North Carolina Tarheels was largely a sloppy affair, with neither team shooting well from the perimeter. The players slipped and slid their way around the court, with Spartan Brandon Dawson going down and limping off before halftime (he would return). Condensation quickly accumulated and volunteers fought a losing battle to keep the court dry throughout the evening. Although the threat of bad weather never materialized, it didn’t hold off for long, as rain started to fall about 45 minutes after the game.

It was no surprise then when all three of this year’s versions of the game were once again affected by weather and condensation. The second Carrier Classic between Marquette and Ohio State was cancelled about an hour after it was scheduled to tip-off as the floor became too slick, making it unsafe to play.  Volunteers, players and coaches all worked to remove the building condensation without much success. Another aircraft carrier game between Florida and Georgetown was called at halftime for similar reasons.

A third aircraft carrier game, the Battle on the Midway, between Syracuse and San Diego State was rescheduled from Friday to Sunday afternoon due to rain in the forecast. When the game was finally played, gusts of wind seemed to affect play on both sides. The perimeter-oriented Aztecs of San Diego State shot an abysmal 1-18 from three-point range, including three air balls, and less than 50 percent from the free throw line. The Orangemen, on the other hand, only attempted four shots from beyond the arc, choosing instead (wisely?) to focus on an inside presence which helped lead them to a 62-49 victory.

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For all of its problems, one would assume that this fad of games played on ships would soon be setting sail. Not so fast. The Carrier Classic has already been confirmed for 2013 and it seems as though there will be no shortage of teams willing to sign up.  The event organizers seem to believe that they’ve devised an “engineering solution” to limit or avoid condensation, although they seem to be tight-lipped with their strategy.

There are certainly more than a few reasons why these games could be a boon for college basketball.

With the college football season in full swing, it takes a lot to draw a television audience to a basketball game in early November. The ratings for the inaugural game were the highest for a college basketball game on ESPN in November in 19 years. It was also the highest-rated regular season college basketball game since March 2006. This year’s Syracuse-San Diego State game also showed strong ratings in spite of the change in game time and the fact that it was airing at the same time as early NFL games.

The notoriety and novelty of the game is also attracting quality non-conference matchups which we often aren’t privy to so early in the season. There are only so many pairings of Indiana versus Bryant, or Michigan versus Slippery Rock (no offense to the Rock!) that one can take. Although the aircraft carrier games have been pretty ugly affairs, this tends to be a staple of early season basketball regardless of where it’s played. While cold shooting nights aren’t a pretty sight, the thought of watching two highly ranked squads makes the narrative interesting enough to convince viewers not flip to reruns of Storage Wars.

Most importantly, the event coincides with Veteran’s Day and was designed to be a show of support for military veterans. The event allows for troops to take in a live college basketball game and revenues from the game go toward the Wounded Warrior Project, the Navy Marine-Corp Relief Society and the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. The other aircraft carrier games also donate their proceeds to service-related charities. This, according to the event organizers, is the main reason behind keeping the event afloat.

While the argument could be made that the event may be better suited for an indoor environment such as a hangar bay or an indoor facility on the naval base, the importance of the event cannot be denied. The exposure, revenue and athlete/fan experience are strong enough reason to give the Carrier Classic another attempt at getting it right.

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The Author:

Doug Freeman