SAN DIEGO — After four attempts to play college basketball games outdoors on Navy ships, after three of them were either postponed or outright canceled, after all of them ran into financial complications, the prevailing winds indicated, for lack of a better pun, that ship had sailed.
A decade after the last attempt to play basketball on a flight deck, there are multiple reports Gonzaga and Michigan State are revisiting the concept in San Diego on Veterans Day. No agreement has been finalized, but ESPN is believed to be involved.
It is unclear where the Nov. 11 game, three days after the official start of the Division I season, would be staged. San Diego State and Syracuse played in 2012 on the deck of the USS Midway Museum, but officials there said they are unaware of any plans for a 2022 game.
That leaves active aircraft carriers docked across the bay at the Naval Air Station North Island. The USS Carl Vinson, site of the original Quicken Loans Carrier Classic between Michigan State and North Carolina in 2011, has been in port since February but could be on deployment by November. The USS Abraham Lincoln, also based in San Diego, left in January and recently was in the Philippine Sea but is expected back by fall. The USS Theodore Roosevelt, once homeported in San Diego, relocated last year to Bremerton, Wash.
The proposed 2022 game, several sources said, is driven by longtime Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, who was on deck for the Carrier Classic and called it "a hell of a memory maker." Several schools were contacted and passed — SDSU and UCLA among them — before Gonzaga coach Mark Few showed interest.
But if or when they try again, history tells us it's a risky proposition.
"At the end of the day," Scott McGaugh, the former marketing director for the USS Midway Museum, told the Union-Tribune in 2013, "being 1,000 feet out on the water and 50 feet (above) the water, aircraft carriers might not be the best venue for basketball games. It's just a tough proposition all around."
The original 2011 event attracted the highest TV audience in a decade for a November college basketball game, with the nation's preseason No. 1 team, President Obama sitting courtside, "USA" on the back of camouflage jerseys instead of players' last names, UNC coach Roy Williams wearing cargo pants tucked into beige combat boots, a spectacular sunset, a unique backdrop and a catchy date (11/11/11).
"One of the neatest things I've ever done," Williams said afterward. "We had some scary moments. We were worried about the weather for the last week, but it worked and I thought it was great."
The initial plan by Morale Entertainment, the event promoter, was to erect a separate court and stands below deck in the hangar bay in case of wet weather. It never did and tempted fate (and a weather report that called for a 50% chance of rain).
Mother Nature cooperated, barely. Ninety minutes after top-ranked UNC beat Michigan State 67-55 before a crowd of 8,111 in temporary bleachers on the flight deck, the skies opened.
The other warning flare: Michigan State shot 2 of 20 behind the 3-point arc, and it wasn't really that windy.
Another: Morale Entertainment was sued by a New Jersey marketing firm for what it claimed was unpaid commission and other fees from sponsorships it sold.
That didn't deter three copycat events on Veterans Day weekend the following year. None was played when originally scheduled, and two never finished.
Weather concerns pushed the game between SDSU and Syracuse from Friday to Sunday afternoon, and financial issues led to the cancellation of several promotional events surrounding it (and forced Fox Sports to write a check to keep the game from completely sinking).
Then the wind really started to blow, and SDSU was even worse than Michigan State behind the arc: 1 of 18 in a 62-49 loss.
But at least they got to the final buzzer.
Georgetown and Florida called their game at halftime after condensation formed on the hardwood court on the USS Bataan amphibious assault ship in Jacksonville, Fla., and it was deemed too dangerous to continue despite players and coaches furiously trying to mop up the moisture. A few hours earlier in Charleston, S.C., Ohio State and Marquette canceled their game on the USS Yorktown aircraft carrier for similar reasons.
"My grandfather had a saying: 'You don't learn anything from a second mule kick,' " Mac Burdette, the executive director of the maritime museum that operates the decommissioned Yorktown, told the Charleston Post & Courier a few months later. "We got kicked by the mule the first time and we learned our lesson. We simply came to the realization that the risks for putting on an event like this far outweighed the reward."