- Andy Katz, ESPN Senior Writer
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Kentucky wants out of its game with Massachusetts in November and the school is willing to pay $50,000 to do it, but the Minutemen aren't happy.
Wildcats athletic director Mitch Barnhart told UMass he will cut the check to get out of a return series game scheduled for the TD Banknorth Garden in Boston on Nov. 24, but an estimated 7,000 tickets have already been sold for the contest. The arena and the Minutemen would have to refund those purchases, and overall, stand to lose an estimated $300,000 that the game would have generated.
Barnhart and UMass athletic director John McCutcheon confirmed Sunday that the Kentucky AD made the call to the Minutemen on Friday and said the Wildcats wouldn't be coming next season. The contract on the home-and-home series called for a $50,000 buyout. UMass, coached by Kentucky alumnus Travis Ford, lost to the Tubby Smith-coached Wildcats 82-68 on Dec. 22.
McCutheon said losing the marquee game will likely mean UMass won't play a game at the Garden since the Minutemen would be unable to attract a high-profile team at this late date.
We're going to have to refund the money. It's a big hassle and very problematic.
UMass AD John McCutcheon
"We did this deal a year ago and had a date of Dec. 22 but Kentucky wanted to move it so we worked with the arena and got Nov. 24, which was a challenge since two pro teams play there [the NBA's Celtics and NHL's Bruins]," McCutcheon said. "You live and learn. I know this was a concern for the coaches' association [teams getting out of contracts]. We're going to have to refund the money. It's a big hassle and very problematic.
"If we had had a sellout, a conservative estimate is that we could have made $250,000 to $300,000," he added. "Playing in Boston is off the board now. I don't see how we can get a caliber opponent like Kentucky."
McCutcheon said he firmly believes the Wildcats got out of the game because of the coaching change from Smith to former Texas A&M coach Billy Gillispie.
"This is a bad practice and maybe next time we should have a higher buyout," McCutcheon said. "This wasn't our arena. This wasn't on our campus."
Barnhart said the Wildcats have scheduling challenges next season. The schedule was put together by Smith and Barnhart said, "Tubby went to Minnesota." According to the AD, this is the first time Kentucky has paid a game buyout during his five years on the job.
Gillispie said he had just looked at the schedule late last week and deferred all comments on the matter to Barnhart.
Kentucky is still honoring a return road game at Houston next season, which should end up being a recruiting hotbed for the Wildcats under the Texas-raised Gillispie. Kentucky is also at Indiana.
North Carolina and Louisville come to Rupp Arena in the other major nonconference games. Kentucky will likely play two neutral-site games in New York in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, assuming the Wildcats win two home games against likely lower-profile competition. Kentucky is expected to face Connecticut in one semifinal in New York with Memphis and Oklahoma in the other bracket in the November tournament. The rest of Kentucky's nonconference schedule will be filled by home games, but the slate will not likely have high-major competition.
Meanwhile, UMass needs three more games. They have a a one-way road game at Syracuse (the Orange won't return), travel to Boston College in an annual home-and-home series and are at Northern Iowa's tournament along with Northern Illinois and Cal Poly. The Minutemen play Toledo, Yale, Wisconsin-Green Bay and Boston University at home.
Kentucky did take into consideration that Ford is a former Wildcat, but in the end didn't want to have five games away from Rupp.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.