Xavier and Cincinnati: Move the Crosstown Classic Back to Campus

Tyler GroteCorrespondent IINovember 21, 2013

CINCINNATI, OH - DECEMBER 19:  Erik Stenger #35 of the Xavier Musketeers is defended by Justin Jackson #5 of the Cincinnati Bearcats and Cheikh Mbodj #13 of the Cincinnati Bearcats as he attempts to shoot in the first half on December 19, 2012 at US Bank Arena in Cincinnati, Ohio. Cincinnati defeated Xavier 60-45.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

The "Crosstown Classic," the basketball game played between Xavier University and the University of Cincinnati, renamed in response to 2011's Crosstown Shootout brawl that erupted seconds before the final buzzer, enters its final year and will be played at U.S. Bank Arena.

Because the rivalry was only extended through 2013, the question of whether to continue the game has resurfaced.

While it's been reported that both schools are in favor of continuing the city's showcase rivalry, if either school is unwilling to return to a home-and-home arrangement, it's time to end the game. 

Things have changed.

While UC used to be a marquee non-conference game for Xavier, its departure from the conference that Xavier now displays on its home court could weaken UC's value.

While we have yet to witness how competitive the new American Athletic Conference (AAC) will be, it's tough to argue it will be anywhere near as competitive or beneficial as playing a team from a power conference, simply because UC will have far fewer opportunities to bolster its schedule, resume and RPI.

Now that it's time to talk about the future, Xavier Athletic Director Greg Christopher needs to be candid.

If the game cannot be moved back to a home-and-home format, it needs to be discontinued.

The current format is too one-sided.

While UC may serve as a formidable foe for the Musketeers this season, as part of an enhanced AAC, their status may need to be revisited once Louisville leaves and the conference becomes thinner at the top. The question Christopher needs to ask himself is who benefits more from this game being played on a neutral court.

Returning to a home-and-home format doesn't necessarily validate UC (or Xavier), but it does introduce the ability to pick up a win over a solid opponent on the road—which counts for more than a neutral court victory when calculating RPI.

Would the opportunity to defeat a Big East opponent on their home floor entice UC? Maybe. Maybe not.

UC has struggled mightily playing at Xavier.

Since the Cintas Center was built over a decade ago, the University of Cincinnati has amassed just one win on Victory Parkway. Xavier has every reason to want to play this game at home where they're 5-1 against UC, while UC boasts just a 7-4 record against Xavier at Fifth Third Arena.

When you consider the solid recruiting Mick Cronin is doing for a program just trying to stay in the light (a 4-star for 2013, two 4-stars for 2014), it is highly likely that UC will remain a competitive team. Maybe one capable of consistently winning the AAC and making the tournament.

Xavier would then benefit from the opportunity to gain a win on the road against a quality opponent.

But that's normal for the Musketeers.

While Xavier has never shied from building a robust non-conference schedule, Mick Cronin has routinely faced criticism for his. Last season, his non-conference schedule finished No. 323 of 344.

But as evidenced by UC's tournament berth last year, it didn't really matter.

That was probably because it still played in the Big East, which provided plenty of opportunities to spike RPI and improve overall strength of schedule. UC will no longer have that luxury and will need to follow Xavier's example of scheduling a competitive non-conference schedule. 

Beyond a numbers rationale, returning to campus is just better for the rivalry.

In terms of crowd capacity, while 17,000-plus is a solid college basketball crowd, it's insanely one-sided.

UC fans drowned out the Xavier crowd last year. If you read Joe Kay's piece on ESPN, he considered the crowd split evenly, stating "The crowd of 14,528 was nearly equally divided between Xavier and Cincinnati fans."

Because I was there, I am just one of many that can personally account that this was not entirely accurate—UC dominated US Bank Arena, vastly outnumbering Xavier fans before dominating on the court.

And that's going to happen every year.

Consider the logistics—UC has a current enrollment of over 40,000 students, while Xavier boasts just under 8,000. It's not even close, and there's no way Xavier's audience could match UC's.

If you've ever been to U.S. Bank Arena, you'd realize another reason why it needs to return to campus.

U.S. Bank Arena could be likened to a cement prison with hard seats and narrow hallways where you can order nachos. If you look hard enough at the ceiling, you might even see water seeping through cracks. It's a sad and lonely place, and it's asked to house what some refer to as college basketball's best rivalry. 

If there were any hostilities remaining from 2011's brawl, you would think it would have erupted downtown last year.

There was hardly a whiff of trouble, only the usual aroma of U.S. Bank Arena. Trouble was the reason the game was moved. Without it, the rationale for U.S. Bank fails.

From Kay's article: "The big question is where the heck are you going to play, and that we haven't ironed out. We've left it at,`Hey, we want to see how this second year goes down there,'" says UC athletic director Whit Babcock.

But we know how it will go, don't we? Just another basketball game in a dark, dingy arena, miles from either school we're supposed to be celebrating. 

Xavier and UC fans seldom agree on anything.

But for once, Clifton and Norwood seem somewhat harmonious—bring the game back to campus, where it belongs. Or let each school embark on its new conference realignment path without each other.