NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — One of the most unique events in college sports is happening again this Veterans Day after a long hiatus. Michigan State and No. 2 Gonzaga will square off on the deck of an aircraft carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln, for the Armed Forces Classic in San Diego.
Tipoff is set for 6:30 p.m. Eastern time.
It’s one of only a handful of games ever played aboard a U.S. Navy carrier, and the first since 2012. The last game pitted hometown San Diego State against Syracuse on the USS Midway (the Orange won 62-49 in front of a crowd of 5,119). The first was in 2011 on the USS Carl Vinson in San Diego. Dubbed the Carrier Classic, North Carolina beat Michigan State 67-55 with 8,000-plus cheering on, including a well-known basketball fan in former President Barack Obama.
Sure it was a funky spectacle, combining one of the biggest symbols of American military might and one of the country’s biggest cultural exports, but also super fun. It was also a major logistical feat, one that turned out to be more of a nuisance in later attempts.
But if future games on big Navy ships are going to rely on a series of logistical stars coming together in alignment to even play in places like San Diego, why not try it at the biggest naval base there is?
Naval Station Norfolk not only has the largest number of overall ships, but all of the Navy’s aircraft carriers are built in nearby Newport News.
Norfolk’s also a short drive from Annapolis and the Naval Academy, setting up a possible game against hometown Old Dominion. Maybe a second game could be an in-state rivalry between ACC foes Virginia and Virginia Tech?
WAVY’s reached out to both ESPN, which is behind this year’s event, and the U.S. Navy to see if a carrier game in Norfolk is on their radar and if it’s been considered in the past. A Navy spokesperson didn’t want to speculate on future events and referred us to the Pentagon. Neither the Defense Department nor ESPN had responded by publishing time.
Meteorologist Ricky Matthews said a game outside in Norfolk in November is theoretically possible. The average high in Norfolk this time of year is about 63 degrees, not too far off San Diego’s average high of about 70 degrees.
However, unlike San Diego, there’s a higher chance of rain and wind in Hampton Roads — and the small chance of a possible November hurricane/tropical storm. It also depends on whether the game’s played during the day or night.
“I don’t see why it couldn’t be possible,” Matthews says.
Greg Smith, who’s worked in facilities and event management with ODU since the early 1990s, said “anything’s possible with money and resources.”
Again, he pointed to San Diego’s mostly perfect conditions and more stable weather patterns. His concern with Norfolk wouldn’t necessarily be the temperature itself, but big fluctuations from day to day — and of course, the humidity.
Games on big ships have all been held (or at least attempted to be played) in the Navy’s warmer locales — which include humid cities Jacksonville and Charleston, the location of the decommissioned USS Yorktown carrier.
Games in Jacksonville for the Navy-Marine Corps Classic in 2012 (aboard the smaller amphibious landing ship USS Wasp, which is also based in Norfolk) were called off because the floor became too wet due to condensation, something Smith was worried could be an issue in Hampton Roads. Those player safety issues would lead to carrier games going on the shelf, and the Armed Forces Classic being played indoors the last several years.
And speaking of temperature fluctuations, we’ll definitely be seeing that this week in Norfolk. It’ll be gorgeous and about 75 degrees on Saturday. 24 hours later the high will be 53.
But if it’s a little chilly, or if it rains like it did Friday, Naval Station Norfolk has an assortment of huge aircraft hangars to set up a backup court. That’s something the Carrier Classic has done in the past.
Coming back to San Diego, the site of tonight’s game, it hasn’t always been perfect. The Syracuse/San Diego State game in 2012 was moved back a day due to a chance of rain.
So, is there a chance for Norfolk?