Gonzaga, Michigan State to take to aircraft carrier for Armed Forces Classic

The ESPN Events division of US sports broadcaster ESPN has rekindled the concept of staging a men’s college basketball match on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier, with the Armed Forces Classic set to return later this year.

The 2022 Armed Forces Classic will see Gonzaga and Michigan State compete in a temporary arena built on the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln in San Diego harbour on Veterans Day, which this year falls on November 11.

Owned and operated by ESPN Events, the Armed Forces Classic was created a decade ago as part of ESPN’s annual America’s Heroes: Salute to Veterans initiative, which dedicates a week of multiplatform programming for Veterans Day.

Since 2012, the event has featured leading men’s college basketball programs competing on military bases and at Armed Services locations around the world. The 2022 game between Gonzaga and Michigan State will be the first Armed Forces Classic event since 2019, due to COVID-19.

Positive Impact, an event management company that works on military-based events, will support ESPN Events with logistics and on-site assistance. Clint Overby, vice-president of ESPN Events, said: “First and foremost, we want to thank the men and women of the Navy, and the entire Armed Forces, for allowing us into their world to share their stories and to thank them for their service to our country.

“We will work with the teams, the Navy and our collective Events group to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for all participants and spectators.”

The 2022 Armed Forces Classic will mark the second time Michigan State plays in a game on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier. In the 2011 Carrier Classic, Michigan State faced North Carolina on the USS Carl Vinson, also in San Diego harbour. That event included then-President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama sitting courtside for the game among the service men and women.

Michigan State also participated in the inaugural Armed Forces Classic in 2012. The Spartans played Connecticut at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany in a C-5 transport airline hangar.

CBS Sports, citing a source, said hosting games on aircraft carriers is not expected to be an annually staged concept. Michigan State and Gonzaga are said to have proceeded with this year’s game due to the former’s experience in 2011. Precautionary measures are set to be put in place to ensure weather-related issues don’t impact on the event, as they did in some of the five prior Carrier Classic games held in 2011 and 2012.

“This game is big for our program, for Michigan State University and for the Big Ten Conference,” said Michigan State head coach, Tom Izzo. “This opportunity to play on an aircraft carrier in front of the men and women who willingly put their lives on the line will be an experience that is going to mean something to the young men who will play in the game for a long, long time.

“I said it the time in 2011 when we played North Carolina on the deck of the USS Carl Vinson – one of the most humbling experiences of my career, and I’ll say it again, we’re going to play one of the top teams in the country and we’re going to be hosted by the No. 1 team in the world.”

Image: Michigan State