Lions game adds 'curveball' for college hoops twin bill

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Michigan coach John Beilein gives his remarks during Tuesday's press conference while Detroit Mercy coach Bacari Alexander looks on.

Detroit – Michigan State, Michigan, Oakland and Detroit Mercy have been working for more than a year on securing a date to play a college basketball doubleheader in downtown Detroit. Recently, the schools and Olympia Entertainment decided on Saturday, Dec. 16.

Then, last week, they were thrown quite the curveball. When the NFL released its 2017 regular-season schedules, the Lions and Bears were down for a game that day, as well, at Ford Field.

"You can look at it as a curveball," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "Or you could look at it as, whoa, that could be a hell of a day, man.

"For a guy like me, I would go to the first game, the second game, the Lions game. Might as well put the Red Wings in here at night, if they could do it. You could just have a hell of a sports day. People would drive down from the U.P. for that kind of day. I don't know if they'd have the money to buy all those tickets, but they'd come down."

Izzo, though, also admitted the Lions game is a bit of a "monkey wrench," too. It makes for some tricky logistics, especially traffic-wise, downtown.

The Lions and Bears will play at 4:30 p.m., meaning the college basketball doubleheader could go early or late, but not mid-afternoon. Game times haven't been announced yet, but Tom Wilson, Olympia Entertainment president and CEO, said the games likely will be before the Lions game.

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"Well, we didn't expect it, I think that's safe to say," Wilson said of hearing the Lions would play a Saturday game in mid-December. "It just changes probably the importance of having it a little bit early, so that we can manage traffic."

Might as well get used to it, though.

With Little Caesars Arena hosting the Red Wings and Pistons  and more than 180 sporting events a year, to say nothing of the concerts and special events  and Ford Field and Comerica Park just down the road, there figures to be a lot of days like that coming to downtown Detroit.

And, most would agree, that's kind of a cool thing.

"There's going to be so much activity on the streets," Wilson said. "It's just going to be a celebratory atmosphere all day. That's what we're looking for.

"It's just going be a constant buzz down here."

When the Lions schedule came out, the coaches were caught off-guard  and a little turned off. The city lights wouldn't be squarely on them that day, or night. Then, given a bit to process it, they agree now that it's not such a bad thing.

Olympia is expecting a sellout for the college doubleheader, which means about 21,000 fans plus another 4,000 or 5,000 hanging out in the LCA plaza that will feature a massive video board.

Throw another 80,000 to 90,000 downtown to tailgate and watch the Lions, and Detroit will be hopping.

"That's the vision those guys had," Oakland coach Greg Kampe said, speaking of the likes of Detroit boosters Dan Gilbert, the Ilitches and the Fords. "They've put their lives and their money into it."

Twitter: @tonypaul1984