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Saunders: Pitt May Have Cause for City Game Pause; More Than That Unacceptable

Saunders: Pitt May Have Cause for City Game Pause; More Than That Unacceptable

Pitt and Duquesne may not play in the 2019-20 season, PSN’s Mike Vukovcan reported on Wednesday.

It would be the first time since 1965 that the Fifth Avenue rivals did not meet on the hardwood.

The schools have not publicly commented on the matter, so intentions are hard to gauge. It’s certainly possible there are extenuating factors that will prevent the teams from meeting next season.

For several reasons, the 2019-20 schedule for Pitt is shaping up to be a tricky one.

Pitt will open its regular season with Florida State on Nov. 6, and will play another ACC game before the holiday break as the conference expands from 18 to 20 league games.

The Panthers are also playing in a tournament in Fort Myers, Florida from Nov. 25-27 that could include major-conference opponents Kansas State and Northwestern.

Pitt will also likely have a game in the 2019 ACC-Big Ten Challenge and has two games remaining on its four-game contract with West Virginia.

Duquesne has scheduling issues, as well. The Dukes are playing most of their season at PPG Paints Arena while A.J. Palumbo Center is torn down and becomes UPMC Chuck Cooper Fieldhouse.

But that means the Dukes are at the mercy of the Pittsburgh Penguins and the arena’s concert partners when it comes to dates at the building. Duquesne is also expected to play in an exempt tournament that requires significant travel.

It’s possible that the schedules for the two teams just can’t mesh, and if that’s the case, the City Game skipping 2019 will be an unfortunate but necessary side effect of the growth of both of the programs.

But it shouldn’t be more than that. Rivalries like The City Game are an important part of the fabric of college athletics that has become all too rare in recent years.

Pressure to win, pressure to create a schedule that maximizes postseason opportunities, conference realignment and the leagues grabbing an ever-larger share of school’s games are all to blame.

That makes rivalries like Pitt and Duquesne’s rare. Of the 15 Division I teams that Pitt has played the most often in its history, only six were on the schedule in 2018-19.

Furthermore, there is a tinge of a familiarity to the idea that a school might not want to continue a historic rivalry for less-than-honorable reasons.

In their second season under head coach Jeff Capel, the Panthers will probably be aiming for postseason basketball, and that means a .500 record. Unless they make a huge jump in their win total in ACC play, they’ll need to win almost every time out in non-conference play to get there.

So a schedule that already could include four major-conference opponents might not be able to fit Duquesne and still accomplish what Capel and the Panthers are looking for in 2019-20.

But in my eyes, that’s a slippery slope. Teams shouldn’t play rivalries because they are convenient. They certainly shouldn’t stop playing rivalry games because they stop being convenient.

They should play them because they are games fans care about, that build pride in both programs, and in The City Game’s case in particular, is the prime basketball event in Pittsburgh almost every year.

Replacing Duquesne with just another random low-major on Pitt’s schedule won’t sit will with Pitt’s fanbase, and it shouldn’t.

After all, Pitt leads the charge against Penn State for the same behavior in football. To turn around and do the same thing to Duquesne would be highly hypocritical.

Let’s hope that the teams find out a way to play this fall. If they can’t, let’s hope there’s a good reason for them to take a one-year pause.

Anything beyond that should be unacceptable.

Pitt, Duquesne at Impasse in 2019 City Game Negotiations

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Ed Rose
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Ed Rose

Pitt has owned Duquesne. Almost a guaranteed win over the past 25 years. To say they are ducking Duquesne is ludicrous.

Pittband
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Pittband

I’ve been around since Mossie Murphy rocked the Arena. Back then it was a contest. This past season’s game was close and ended a blow-out. It’s only going to get worse. Sorry, it’s time to put to bed the Dukes, Mountaineers, and the Niters. We are in the most competitive conference in Division 1 that’s where our focus needs to be not selling local papers. Do local papers still exist?

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