Detroit — Officials from Michigan State and Oakland were not happy to learn this week their men’s basketball game at Little Caesars Arena on Dec. 16 would tip off at 4 p.m., putting it right up against the Lions-Bears game the same day, right down the street at Ford Field.
Now, it seems, there remains a glimmer of hope the basketball game time could still be changed.
“I still think there’s a chance for movement on it,” Oakland coach Greg Kampe said.
“I think that the people there (Olympia Entertainment) are very smart and they’re gonna do what’s best.
“I don’t think anything’s set in stone right now.”
Oakland athletic director Jeff Konya declined to speculate on any such game-time movement.
Game times for the first college basketball games to be played at the new downtown arena — it’s dubbed “The District Detroit Basketball Showcase” — have been announced as 1:30 p.m. for the first game — Michigan vs. Detroit Mercy, and 4 p.m. for the second game — Michigan State and Oakland.
That puts the Michigan State-Oakland game, the marquee of the two with Michigan State expected to be a top-five team and Oakland always an upset mid-major candidate, in line with the Lions-Bears game, which will begin at 4:30 p.m.
TV dictates the start times, and because the games are considered Horizon League games, ESPN has the rights. Michigan-Detroit Mercy will be on ESPNU, and Michigan State-Oakland on ESPN2. For now, at least.
“That doesn’t mean they have to be on ESPN,” Kampe said, without going into further detail.
This is where the clout of Olympia and money could come into play.
Olympia surely has a stake in the three sports games — and a huge sports day downtown — being spread out, given its bars and restaurants that also stand to do quite handsomely.
The Big Ten Network could, theoretically, show interest in acquiring the rights to the games — should ESPN be willing — and move the games to, say, 11:30 a.m. or noon for Michigan-Detroit Mercy and 2 or 2:30 for Michigan State-Oakland. ESPN brass would have to realize its ratings could take a huge hit, given its target audience at 4 could be more invested in the Lions, especially if they’re in playoff contention.
If the game were moved up, the Michigan State-Oakland game would be done before or just after the Lions game starts, and fans who’d be interested in attending all three sporting events could then do so without missing much action.
“I am disappointed for our fans,” Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis told The News on Wednesday, speaking of the tip time. “The reason we are going down there is to be a part of a great city, arena and event.
“The Lions game was part of that event.”
Konya was a bit more tempered.
“If you’re a sports fan and you wanted to see both games and the football game, obviously it’s a little bit of a downer,” he said. “But it is going to be a tremendous event.”
The Big Ten Network already has released its nonconference and conference TV schedule for 2017-18, but might would be interested in taking another look if Michigan-Detroit Mercy and Michigan State-Oakland do become available for the right price.
Seton Hall-Rutgers currently is slotted for noon on BTN that day, and Iowa-Drake is the 2 p.m. game.
Officials from the four schools started discussing this doubleheader more than a year ago, and finally settled on a date in the spring — Dec. 16. It seemed safe, as a Saturday. Then the NFL schedule came out and surprised Hollis, Kampe and Co., putting the Lions and Bears on a Saturday, instead of the typical NFL Sunday. School and Olympia officials, caught off-guard, started discussing a last-minute date change, but logistics wouldn’t allow it.
So officials, when announcing the doubleheader in April, decided to put a happy spin on the circumstances, and raved about how cool a day it would be downtown, with a tripleheader. There was an assumption the basketball game times would be earlier in the day.
“I think they’re going look at it,” Kampe said. “It may stay the same. It also could move.
“You just don’t know.”
Ticket sales for the basketball doubleheader — one ticket gets you into both games, and ranges in price from $40 to $75 for the general public — have been brisk, with more than 10,000 tickets already sold. Capacity for basketball at the new arena, which opened Tuesday with a Kid Rock concert, is to be around 21,000.