Ohio State men’s basketball head coach Chris Holtmann has not been a coach in the state of Ohio for even six months and he’s already trying to make plans for the state’s future in college basketball.
Holtmann has twice previously broached the subject of introducing a Crossroads Classic-type event to the state of Ohio.
Three years before Holtmann was promoted to head coach at Butler, former Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke helped create the Crossroads Classic, an event in Indianapolis between four of the state’s basketball powerhouses: Butler, Purdue, Indiana and Notre Dame.
While Holtmann said the event is still “at best case scenario … a few years away from being the reality,” he said he’s made progress talking with the three other schools — Cincinnati, Xavier and Dayton — about the possibility.
“I think the first thing is someone takes the idea and runs with it, and then kind of spearheads it and kind of pushes it,” Holtmann said Wednesday in a sit-down interview with The Lantern. “But there’s a lot that has to be done. You have to have obviously four schools that feel like it’s in their best interest and have an interest in doing it and we’re trying to broach that subject with them, but we’re just in the very early stages of those kind of conversations.”
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In Holtmann’s first year as head coach at Butler, his Bulldogs were ranked No. 23 when they were upset by Indiana on Dec. 20, 2014. Holtmann said that victory by the Hoosiers proved to be a signature win on the Hoosiers’ resume and that it helped propel them to an NCAA tournament berth. The following two seasons, his team was the underdog to No. 9 Purdue in 2015 when the Bulldogs were No. 17, and then again in 2016 to No. 9 Indiana when Butler was No. 18. They won both matches.
Even as a ranked team, Butler was always considered an underdog against the other Power Five teams that were in the event.
Now at Ohio State, the script would be flipped. The Buckeyes are the flagship school in Ohio, and would be considered the program to beat.
Holtmann said whether favorite or underdog, powerhouse or up-and-comer, an all-Ohio event will provide value to any team that comes away with a win.
“I think the reality is you have other programs in the state that have been really high-achieving programs,” Holtmann said. “I get why we haven’t played some of those schools in the past, but I also recognize that, I think perhaps if those programs were really struggling programs that wouldn’t be as beneficial for us. I don’t think that’d be in Ohio State’s best interest, but they’re programs that have had success and makes it mutually beneficial.”
But before the idea behind the event can become a reality, there are several remaining obstacles left to hurdle for Holtmann.
Big Ten teams currently have 18 conference games in their schedule, but a recent change in scheduling will now force teams to have 20 games against Big Ten opponents, leaving only 11 vacancies in the schedule for out-of-conference opponents.
There is also the matter of clearing the notion with the other schools involved and figuring out who will play whom.
“I think maybe in some ways a fan base may think, ‘Hey, just you can get it together, it’s great for everybody,’” Holtmann said. “But it’s a little more involved than that in the dates, and now we have an increased Big Ten schedule, which is a challenge in terms of finding nonconference games.”
There will be plenty of incentive for all teams to get something like this scheduled.
The Crossroads Classic drew plenty of excitement among the four programs’ fan bases. Over the past two seasons, Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis was filled beyond its listed capacity of 17,923 with 18,684 fans in 2016 and 19,156 in 2015. Last year, the event featured four ranked teams for the first time in Crossroads Classic history.
Holtmann believes if the four aforementioned Ohio teams are able to work out a similar event, the same success will happen in the Buckeye state.
“It’s great for the fans. It’s exciting for the fans,” Holtmann said. “It engages them in a way that that time of year when you’re thinking maybe about other things, you have NFL and you have college football, which are great, but it engages them on a Saturday that’s different than obviously conference play.”