LEXINGTON — The CBS Sports Classic is not dropping from the Kentucky basketball schedule anytime soon.
In January, UK signed a three-year extension for the annual neutral-site showcase event. The new contract, obtained by The Courier Journal, keeps Kentucky in the event alongside North Carolina, UCLA and Ohio State through the 2026-27 season.
Kentucky will play Ohio State in 2024, UCLA in 2025 and North Carolina in 2026 in three cities that will be determined at a later date.
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The extension ensures Kentucky will continue to play in at least two of its neutral-site games for the next three seasons. ESPN previously announced the Champions Classic, which features Kentucky, Duke, Michigan State and Kansas, had been extended through the 2025-26 season.
In a change from recent years, the Champions Classic will no longer be played as the season opener. The games are scheduled for Nov. 14, 2023; Nov. 12, 2024 and Nov. 18, 2025.
Kentucky’s participation in multiple neutral-site games came under increased focus last season amid criticism over a lack of marquee nonconference games played at Rupp Arena.
“We’ve heard the rumblings about the schedule,” UK athletic director Mitch Barnhart told The Courier Journal in February. “We’ve played a lot of games at neutral sites. Some of the bigger games, bigger names have been at neutral sites. I think at a period of time those were something that is helpful to our program. Clearly, we want to play more games in Rupp Arena that I don’t want to say have meaning but our fans would recognize, boy those are special games.”
While the neutral-site games might weaken Kentucky’s home schedule, they represent a financial boon to the department.
ESPN will pay UK $275,000 to participate in the 2023 Champions Classic and $300,000 for playing in the 2024 and 2025 editions of the event, according to a contract obtained by the Courier Journal. UK will also receive 20% of all ticket revenue over $1.1 million in 2023 and $1.2 million in 2024 and 2025.
CBS will pay Kentucky $250,000 for each game in the CBS Sports Classic from 2023 to 2026.
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Kentucky is scheduled to play a third neutral-site game each of the next two seasons.
The Wildcats will face Michigan in London, England, on Dec. 4. The Basketball Hall of Fame will pay Kentucky $500,000 to participate in that game. A neutral-site game in a city yet to be announced against Notre Dame was originally scheduled for the 2022-23 season as part of a three-year series that saw both teams play in their home arenas but was pushed back to 2023-24, according to a report from CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein.
There will at least be two marquee home games for Kentucky next season.
The annual Louisville rivalry will be played in Rupp Arena on Dec. 31, 2022. Kentucky will host Kansas on Jan. 28, 2023 as part of the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
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The change in the Louisville series, necessitated when the 2021 game was canceled due to COVID-19 issues within the Louisville program, means in seasons ending in even years, Kentucky no longer is guaranteed to host at least one of the Louisville game and Big/12 SEC Challenge. With the SEC electing to keep its men’s basketball schedule at 18 games after Texas and Oklahoma join the league, Kentucky now knows in those seasons two new series will need to be added to ensure at least two high-major nonconference opponents play in Rupp Arena.
“There’s still going to be those moments where we’re going to want to go play in Madison Square Garden or we’re going to want to play in Chicago or Vegas, something like that,” Barnhart said in February. “There’s a couple of those games we want to play, but at the end of the day we also have to have enough of those games in balance back in Rupp Arena. … We’ve heard that message and we’re endeavoring to get a little more balance on that schedule. So, we need to do that.”
Email Jon Hale at email@example.com; Follow him on Twitter at @JonHale_CJ.