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May 31, 2012DESTIN, Fla. - If Indiana wants to play Kentucky in basketball this December in Indianapolis, Mitch Barnhart is all for it.
But the UK athletic director reiterated Thursday in an interview with Cats Illustrated at the Southeastern Conference Meetings that the Wildcats aren't interested in signing a four-year deal with the Hoosiers to play at neutral and campus sites.
And Barnhart said that the public manner in which the schools' negotiations have played out has been "disappointing."
"I've been in this thing 30 years," Barnhart said. "It's not that hard. We work through dates. I don't want to play stuff out in the public. I don't think that's the way you do business."
Indiana announced on May 3 that the UK-IU series would end due to a dispute over venues, with IU preferring the on-campus sites that have hosted in recent years and UK pushing for a move back to neutral sites.
But the two rivals began talks again on May 10, when Indiana offered a four-year series with two neutral-site games at Lucas Oil Field in Indianapolis, one at Rupp Arena in Lexington and one at Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind. Ultimately, Kentucky nixed that deal.
The Wildcats don't want to sign a four-year contract, and Barnhart said Thursday that UK isn't willing to commit to playing on campus sites.
"Not at this point," he said. "Not the next two years."
Kentucky remains willing to play, but only in Indianapolis.
"We've got two dates, (December) 15th and 22nd," Barnhart said. "We've talked about a game up at Lucas Oil Field, and if there's interest on their part, that's still (an option). Time's running out. We need to go ahead and get this thing done if we're going to get it done, and we'll figure that out."
But Kentucky is unlikely to commit to four years. Barnhart said the lack of interest in a four-year deal stems from UK's desire to maintain schedule flexibility in upcoming seasons.
There are several factors at play, Barnhart said, in UK's lack of interest in returning to Assembly Hall, where UK suffered its only regular season loss last December. The difficulty of winning there isn't among them, he said.
"The reality of it is, if we give up the campus series, we give up coming back to our campus this year," Barnhart said. "So in a year that everybody says, 'You should probably want to play them on campus. They're going to be really good. You'd rather play them at your place,' we're saying, 'No, we'd give that up and go do something neutral.' We're willing to give that up for a couple reasons.
"One, John (Calipari) wants to play it at the neutral sites, a couple big neutral sites where you're playing in that football stadium kind of feel, because that's what Final Fours are being played in. And two, from a fan's perspective, we can get more of our fans in there for those games on a regular basis, and it's people that sometimes don't necessarily get into Rupp Arena."
Barnhart downplayed the atmosphere in Bloomington when Kentucky lost to Indiana last December as a factor in the decision. The atmospheres at Rupp Arena and Assembly Hall are "just different, and that's OK," Barnhart said.
"I think there's an environment that we want to create when people come to Rupp Arena, and I would hope that we would be treated the same way when we go on the road," Barnhart said. "Was it tough up there this year? Yeah, it was tough. It wasn't easy. The court was rushed, and that's OK. That's happened to else before. It's happened to us at South Carolina, ... happened to us at Georgia. I mean, pick a spot. You beat Kentucky, people rush the court. That's not a big deal to us."
But Barnhart admitted he's "puzzled" by Indiana's handling of the negotiations. Indiana announced the end of the series in a press release on May 3. The most recent publicity came via a letter - not released by Indiana, but acquired via open-records requests by multiple media outlets - from IU Athletics Director Fred Glass to Barnhart.
That letter, dated May 25, arrived at UK on Wednesday, spokesman DeWayne Peevy said. Barnhart said sending a letter via the mail to discuss game negotiations is "sort of different than what I would normally do, but that's OK."
The public nature of the negotiations won't impact his approach, Barnhart said.
"I hear what people are saying, but I don't let it affect what I'm doing," he said. "I'm going to go and make the best decision for us. They can do what they want to me personally; I will never take it personally. I'm going to move on and do what I think is best for our program. If people think that they're going to win a public deal with me, I don't respond to that well."