Hoop Thoughts

College Basketball commentary with Seth Davis

  • 04:01 PM ET  11.11
Mike Brey
Mike Brey/AP

In advance of my trip to Indiana two weeks ago, several fans had asked me via Twitter to perform a little shuttle diplomacy. (And yes, you can start following me on Twitter here.) The mission: Convince Purdue and Notre Dame to play each other again.

These two schools, which are so rich in basketball tradition, sit only 150 miles apart, and yet they have only played once since 1966 -– and that was in the 2004 postseason NIT. (Notre Dame won, 71-59.) But in the 24 years before 1966, they played each other 28 times. Nobody seems to know exactly why the series stopped, but it never resumed in the 1970's because Notre Dame, which did not belong to any conference, was intent on playing more of a national schedule under Digger Phelps. In declining to play Purdue, Phelps further salted the wounds of Boilermaker fans by cracking that "there is no road from South Bend to West Lafayette."

When I got to West Lafayette, I found a lot of enthusiasm for a resumption of the series. "I'd love for that to happen," Purdue coach Matt Painter told me. "I think it would be great for the fans, it would be great for the state of Indiana. We've tried to get it going here in the last five years, but they've been full with their schedule." Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke and Robbie Hummel, the Boilermakers' All-Big Ten forward, were likewise eager. "I'd love to play against them. I think it would be fun to have maybe a neutral site game in Lucas Oil [Stadium]," Hummel said. "You always love to play against competitive teams, and obviously Notre Dame is a great program."

Having secured the interest of the powers that be at Purdue, I was hoping to close the deal upon my arrival in South Bend. Alas, I found Notre Dame coach Mike Brey to be far more lukewarm to the notion. "I think my mind is more open to it than any of the previous coaches who have been here," Brey said. "But you know what? Everybody in the Big Ten wants to play us. I get asked about it by the media every year because one of their coaches says they want to play Notre Dame. My answer to them is, we're in the Big East. When we get in the Big Ten, we'll take care of all you guys."

From Notre Dame's standpoint, there are three barriers to resuming a series with Purdue. First, the Irish now play in the Big East, which requires them to play 18 conference games. That eats up a huge chunk of the schedule, and since it's such a tough league it would be foolish to add too many difficult games outside the conference. Second, Notre Dame still has a strong national brand. Unlike Painter, who gets most of his players from in-state, Brey needs to recruit players from other parts of the country. So he fills his nonconference schedule with teams like UCLA, Maryland and Alabama to increase his program's footprint nationwide.

Finally, there is another local series that has fallen by the wayside in recent years, and that is Indiana-Notre Dame. Indiana's previous administration suggested several years ago that they start playing again, but they insulted Notre Dame by suggesting that Indiana pay the Irish guarantee money to come to Bloomington, as if Notre Dame was a low-major school. "That cooled things for a while," Brey said.

Brey and IU coach Tom Crean have talked in recent years about starting up that series again. Though Brey won't come out and say it, the reality is, Indiana has a much bigger following than Purdue, particularly in South Bend. "You can't play both," Brey said. So if he's going to pick a fight with an in-state foe, it makes far more sense to do it with Indiana.

Oh, well. As shuttle diplomacy goes, I guess I'm no Henry Kissinger. I frankly do not see a Notre Dame-Purdue series happening anytime soon. There is, however, one glimmer of hope. "My mom's a Purdue grad," Brey said. "She's on my butt about it, too. So never say never."

I never would.

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