Jon Morse (jonfmorse) wrote in sports_journal,
Jon Morse

The "True Road Game" or "When a Site Isn't Neutral".

Full disclosure; I wouldn't be making this post, nor would I even have begun considering the issue, had it not been a result of considering my own team's situation. Having said that, my position would be the same even if I had come across this while reading about the hated Jayhawks.

Nine days ago, Kansas State played a "neutral court" game against UNLV. In Las Vegas. The game wasn't played at the Thomas and Mack Center due to a scheduling conflict (how's that happen, anyway), but rather at the Orleans Arena. Virtually every game story either flatly referred to the game as a neutral court, or noted that it was (paraphrasing) "technically a neutral court but come on gimme a break".

A week later, Kansas State again played a "neutral court" game against Alabama. In Mobile. You know, Mobile. Alabama. Again, consistently referred to as a neutral site; this time, there have been no "gimme a break" caveats.

I think it's high time we re-assess what we consider to be a neutral site (regardless of sport), because this is ridiculous. As far as I'm concerned, anyway, K-State just won two true road games, going far away from home to play in decidedly hostile territory.

1) If you're playing out of region, and you're playing in your oppponent's home state, it should be considered a road game for you, unless perhaps the site in question is the home of your opponent's hated in-state rival. Now, I'm not asserting the converse to be true. I don't feel that for Alabama, Mobile was necessarily a home game. Indeed, had Alabama's opponent been Southern Mississippi, you could argue that it was almost a road game for the Tide. If they'd played this game in Auburn, or perhaps even Birmingham, maybe the crowd has a heavy bias against the Tide. (I'm pretty sure there's not a great deal of anti-Bama sentiment in Mobile, despite USA's presence.) But when your opponent is in-state and a couple of hours from home while you've had to travel a thousand miles to get there... let's face it, we know what colors the crowd will be wearing, and they won't be yours.

Hell, I'd go so far as to say a KSU-Alabama game in Atlanta might be a true road game for KSU, but I can easily accept a counter-argument there. After all, at some point if you keep stretching the bounds of a team's regional footprint, you get to the point where you're claiming that a Duke-Hawai'i game at Madison Square Garden is a true road game for Hawai'i, and that's equally silly.

2) Even if you are a regional rival, if you're playing in your opponent's home town it's a road game. The only possible exception to this is if you're in the Philadelphia area or something similar, where game at the Palestra between Villanova and Temple is unquestionably a neutral site game. But if your school owns the city in question, let's not be mendacious. Your students and local fans don't even have to make travel plans to get to the game. It's across freakin' town. In this instance, not only is it a true road game for one team, it's a home game for you. To even pretend that UNLV playing a game in Las Vegas constitutes a neutral site matchup is beyond ridiculous.

Maybe -- maybe -- I'll accept that playing in town but in your most hated rival's facility is not a home game. Maybe you can convince me that if USC is playing in the Rose Bowl, it's not a home game. Maybe.

None of this would matter beyond semantics, of course, except for one small difficulty: computer rankings and pollsters and the NCAA tournament selection committee all factor in whether games are "home", "away", or "neutral". When March rolls around, K-State is going to have a couple of decent wins on "neutral courts" which should be tabulated as "road wins". They're almost certainly not the only team that'll be facing this sort of thing. It's time to take this stuff into account.
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