A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

After 30-year series hiatus, NKU to battle Cincinnati in men’s basketball this season

By Don Owen
NKyTribune reporter

The last time Northern Kentucky University squared off against the University of Cincinnati in a regular-season men’s basketball game, Jane Meier was just four months into her job as the Norse’s athletic director.

“That was an eternity ago,” Meier joked when told the last meeting between the two programs happened on Nov. 27, 1988.

Jane Meier

The NKU/UC series hiatus is over, though. The Norse will battle the Bearcats this season in Cincinnati as part of a four-year pact that also includes UC playing at NKU’s BB&T Arena twice during the next seven years.

Details on when UC eventually will visit BB&T Arena have not been disclosed, but the two schools have agreed to a home-and-home series. Last season, UC played its home games at BB&T Arena while its on-campus facility was being renovated.

As part of the terms to use BB&T Arena last season, UC agreed to play NKU in a four-game series that will begin this year at Fifth Third Arena in Clifton. A date for the game has not been announced.

The two programs met several times in exhibition games while NKU competed at the NCAA Division II level, but it’s been 30 years since they have played a game that counted. UC owns a 7-0 lead in the all-time series against NKU, but Meier said competing against the Bearcats on the basketball court during the 1980s brought plenty of residual benefits.

“It meant added visibility for us, because it was a Division II program playing a Division I with a significant history of success,” said Meier, who accepted the position of athletic director at NKU in August of 1988 and held that position until retiring in 2009. “It enhanced our program in many ways. UC was a nationally known name in men’s basketball, so playing them gave us a level of credibility and recognition to people who didn’t know a lot about NKU.”

The NKU/UC series ended following the 1988-89 season as many Division I programs stopped playing non-Division I schools because of the potential strength-of-schedule ramifications for at-large berths in the NCAA Tournament.

“It was a completely different era back then as far as scheduling, and for several years UC was willing to play non-Division I programs,” said Meier, who was inducted into NKU’s Athletics Hall of Fame in 2011. “Even though the series with UC ended after 1988, NKU still played Division I schools during the next several years.”

During the 1990s, NKU played against such opponents as Eastern Kentucky, Morehead State, Dayton and Toledo. But after the Norse posted a 25-4 record and captured the Great Lakes Valley Conference championship in 1994-95, Division I programs rarely inquired about the Norse’s availability for a game.

NKU’s Ken Shields in 1988

“Coach (Ken) Shields did such a great job with the program and took us to such a new level,” Meier said. “I’m sure most Division I coaches wanted no part of NKU after Ken built our basketball program into a national contender.”

Now coached by John Brannen and a full-fledged member of NCAA Division I, NKU has won 46 games the past two seasons and emerged as one of the top programs in the Horizon League. NKU won the Horizon League regular-season championship in 2017-18 and played Louisville in the NIT.

On social media, NKU fans have expressed their satisfaction and appreciation that UC is on the 2018-19 schedule. Meier said she understands why the NKU/UC series is significant to the Norse fans.

“I think the fact they will be playing again is tremendous,” she said. “UC has an outstanding tradition, and their program strives to be among the best. This is a rare opportunity, but I think everyone who follows NKU is pleased to hear they are playing UC in a regular-season game. It will be fun.”

REMEMBER THIS?: The first game in the regular-season series between NKU and UC took place on Nov. 30, 1981, at Riverfront Coliseum. The game was televised live locally on WXIX TV-19 (now FOX19), and the Bearcats posted a 56-42 win over the Norsemen. Kevin Gaffney led UC with 20 points, while Brady Jackson paced NKU with 18 points. Mike Beitzel was the head coach for NKU, while Ed Badger was UC’s sideline mentor. Below is the box score from that game.

Nov. 30, 1981
At Cincinnati, Ohio (Riverfront Coliseum)
Cincinnati 56, Northern Kentucky 42

NKU (42): Fleming 1 2 4, Jackson 7 4 18, Jesse 1 0 2, Burns 3 0 6, List 4 0 8, Schuster 0 0 0, Hock 1 0 2, Howe 0 0 0, Chadwell 0 0 0, Secrest 0 0 0, Sandfoss 1 0 2. Totals 18 6 42.

UC (56): Jones 4 4 12, Robinson 1 0 2, Williams 3 0 6, Johnson 1 0 2, Austin 2 0 4, Gaffney 9 2 20, Schloemer 1 2 4, Dorris 0 0 0, Campbell 2 0 4, Niemann 1 0 2. Totals 24 8 56.

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