MOUNT PLEASANT — As Ohio State basketball coach Thad Matta wound his way through the narrow hallways of the aircraft carrier Yorktown on Friday night, he looked at Marquette coach Buzz Williams.
“What are we going to tell our players in the locker room?” Matta asked his counterpart.
There was not much either coach could say to ease the disappointment of an anti-climatic end to the Carrier Classic on Friday night. With thousands of fans in the bleachers, including military personnel and veterans, and national TV cameras trained on the flight deck of the Yorktown, Carrier Classic officials had to call off the featured men’s game between fourth-ranked Ohio State and Marquette.
Condensation on the court laid down on the flight deck just for this event made it unsafe, officials said. The game, set to tip-off at 7 p.m. on the NBC Sports Network, was called off after a delay of almost an hour. Game officials conferred with both coaches and athletic directors from both schools before the decision was announced.
“The court started to develop condensation, and it was my decision that it wasn’t safe to have the student-athletes play,” said Mike Whalen, director of the Morale Entertainment Foundation, which puts on the Carrier Classic. “In the end, it just wasn’t worth it. We couldn’t take a chance … It would be on my conscience if some kid broke his leg.”
The women’s game between No. 6 Notre Dame and No. 21 Ohio State, which began at 4 p.m., went off without a hitch. The Fighting Irish took a 57-51 victory, an orange sun setting beautifully over Charleston Harbor in the second half.
“We came out early to tour the ship, and to be able to play in this atmosphere was something special,” said Notre Dame star Skylar Diggins.
But after the sun went down and the temperatures dipped near 50 degrees, moisture began to develop on the court, just as it had the previous two nights. Ohio State guard Aaron Craft noticed something was wrong during warm-ups.
“We saw a couple of Marquette players sliding from halfcourt to the 3-point line without picking up their feet,” Craft said. “In spurts it would be all right, but it wasn’t getting any better.”
After the game was called off, players from both teams mingled with fans and military personnel, signing autographs and posing for pictures. But that was small comfort for all concerned.
“For the people we are trying to serve, the veterans and wounded warriors, it’s a great disappointment,” Whalen said. “But it is what it is.”
Whalen said he was not sure if purchased tickets would be refunded, but said more than 85 percent of the tickets for the Classic were given away. Proceeds from the Carrier Classic benefit the Wounded Warrior Project, the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society and the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.
Official attendance numbers were not available, but there were empty seats in the 4,500-seat bleachers. Tickets went for between $500 and $2,500.
“Last year, we gave away about $4 million in tickets, and this year I’m sure it will be about the same,” Whalen said.
Carrier Classic officials had arranged to use The Citadel’s McAlister Field House in case of rain, Whalen said. And though officials had noticed moisture on the court Wednesday and Thursday nights, no plans were made to move the game.
The game between Ohio State and Marquette will go down as a “no contest”, and it’s not likely to be made up this season. But both coaches said the cancellation would not deter them from taking part in similar events in the future.
“We’ll play anywhere, any time in this type of event for this type of purpose,” Marquette’s Williams said. “The game didn’t work out, but that doesn’t alter our philosophical views on playing for something more meaningful than winning or losing.”
That view was on display in the women’s game, with former Notre Dame standout Danielle Green cheering on her team in a Wounded Warrior Project t-shirt. Green, who played for the Irish from 1995-2000, had her left arm amputated after she was injured in a rocket-propelled grenade attack in Baghdad in 2004.
Notre Dame players wore purple hearts with Green’s No. 12 in the middle, and Green helped accept a check for $954,000 for the Wounded Warrior Project from Kangaroo Express.
“It’s quite a spectacle,” said Green, who enlisted in the Army after her career at Notre Dame. “I never thought I’d see Notre Dame’s women’s team playing on the USS Yorktown against Ohio State. I’m overwhelmed.”
Despite the disappointing ending, events like the Carrier Classic are important, said Green, who works as a readjustment counselor for the Dept. of Veterans Affairs.
“Our wars overseas are concluding,” she said. “But the war at home is just beginning. When soldiers come back, they have a hard time integrating back into society. So it’s great for Wounded Warrior to bring that awareness to a sports arena. They do amazing work.”