May 31, 2012
Air Force men’s basketball will likely get the chance to play on a World War II aircraft carrier this November.
Mike Whalen, the executive director of Morale Entertainment Foundation, a nonprofit organization that last year put on the picturesque and popular Carrier Classic game between North Carolina and Michigan State that was attended by President Barack Obama, said an agreement to bring the All-Military Classic to the USS Yorktown in Mount Pleasant, S.C., is about 95 percent complete.
“I think it’s going to be a go,” Whalen said. “We’re excited.”
The first All-Military Classic was held last year at Air Force, and involved the Falcons, The Citadel, Virginia Military Institute and Army. The Citadel was set to host this year, and some luck was involved in moving it to the aircraft carrier for games Nov. 10-11.
The first Carrier Classic was on the USS Carl Vinson in San Diego last year, but is moving to the USS Yorktown, which is a very short distance from The Citadel. The Carrier Classic this Nov. 9 will feature a men’s game between Ohio State and Marquette, and then a women’s game between Notre Dame and Ohio State, Whalen said.
Whalen said he spoke with Citadel basketball coach Chuck Driesell about the possibility of moving the All-Military Classic from McAlister Field House at Citadel to the ship. Since the court and seats would be set up already, the cost of having the All-Military Classic on the carrier was acceptable. Whalen said he is just waiting on paperwork and hopes to have an official announcement within two weeks.
Air Force coach Dave Pilipovich said he first heard about the possibility when he was recruiting and ran into Driesell.
"I said "Are you kidding me?" Pilipovich said. "What an experience. That's something these guys will remember forever."
The USS Yorktown is stationed at the Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum. According to the Patriots Point website, it was the 10th aircraft carrier to serve in the U.S. Navy. The ship was commissioned on April 15, 1943, and was decommissioned and placed in reserve in 1970. Whalen said he anticipates the ship will be able to hold about 4,000 people for the basketball games.
Whalen said the anticipated matchups on Saturday, Nov. 10 will be Citadel vs. VMI, and Air Force vs. Army. Those games will be on the ship, assuming there are no last-minute snags. Whalen said he was unsure if the championship and consolation games between those teams on Sunday, Nov. 11 will be on the ship or at the McAlister Field House at Citadel. The field house is the backup venue for all the USS Yorktown games in case of inclement weather.
The Carrier Classic between the Spartans and Tar Heels last year was a ratings hit because of the unique outdoor venue. According to the Associated Press, the game drew a 2.7 rating (3.859 million viewers - 10.28 million unique viewers watched at least some of the event, Whalen said), which was the highest-rated college basketball game in November since ESPN started keeping records in 1991.
Contact Frank Schwab: 476-4891
Facebook Gazette Frank Schwab