Every time the subject of the City Game gets brought up, Pitt looks worse and worse.
In March, when PSN first reported that the game was in danger of not being played, Pitt responded by making an agreement to play the game in 2020-21 and 2021-22.
The game being canceled in 2019, breaking a 40-year streak of it being played at least once annually, was a disappointing result for those that cared about the game, but the seeming fact that the schools had an agreement to resume after a one-year hiatus satiated most.
With Duquesne off to a 9-0 start for the first time in several decades, for the first time in a long time, a 2019 version of the City Game might have been truly competitive, in a good way. The Dukes are currently the No. 59 team in the country in adjusted efficiency, according to KenPom.com. Pitt, out to an 8-3 start, is No. 72.
Pitt head coach Jeff Capel was asked on Monday after Pitt’s win over Northern Illinois about not playing the Dukes this year, the first time he’d been asked to broach the topic. It was not the best time for the question, coming off a comeback Pitt win over NIU. But Capel’s previous media availability had been on Dec. 5, and without a future one expected before the holidays.
Forgivably, Capel was unhappy with the line of questioning at the time and didn’t give a particularly lengthy or thoughtful answer as to why the teams aren’t playing this season. Given a chance to expand on the topic on 93.7 The Fan on Thursday, Capel did not do much better.
Not only was he noncommittal about the future of the game in general, Capel seemed to suggest that the already announced 2020 and 2021 games are still on the table, at least in his mind.
“It’s something going forward, that we could do, but that’s a decision that will be made by me after our season is over with this year,” he said.
Yikes. Given what has already occurred, if the Panthers were to go back on playing Duquesne next year, the blow-back would be severe. Part of that is because Capel or anyone else at Pitt (Hello, Heather Lyke? It’s your friends in the media. We haven’t heard from you in months.) has yet to fully address the reason for the interruption.
Capel insisted that he isn’t afraid to play Duquesne — or anybody — but that some combination of playing at Robert Morris, West Virginia, the ACC-Big Ten Challenge and an exempt tournament prevented him from scheduling the Dukes.
Anyone with a handy copy of the teams’ schedules can see that just isn’t true.
Pitt played Nicholls State on Dec. 9, with Duquesne in the midst of six off days between games. Pitt played NIU on Dec. 16, with the Dukes in the middle of another six-day break. Both teams have the entire week of Christmas off. Pitt is playing Canisius on a weekday at noon on Monday, Dec. 30. You can’t possibly tell me THAT game, which might have an attendance in the hundreds, is more attractive for the Pitt fanbase than playing Duquesne, any day the Dukes were free.
That’s just this year. No one has given any reason for not playing Duquesne in perpetuity, other than Capel’s vague statement about doing what’s best for the program.
As if that would somehow involve not playing Duquesne. People care about the City Game. There’s a reason that the last playing of it in 2018 was Pitt’s highest-attended non-conference game in Pittsburgh since 2013, with more fans than even games against Power Five rival West Virginia.
It can’t be all Duquesne fans, who have attended so few games at A.J. Palumbo Center over the years it makes one wonder if the school is replacing some seats that have never been used in the ongoing renovation there.
There is legitimate interest in the City Game from Pitt fans and boosters and the city at large.
A one-year hiatus, even if poorly timed, is something most fans could deal with. Pitt walking away from an agreement to play the best rivalry game it has, while at the same time complaining about Penn State doing the same in football, would be short-sighted and hypocritical to the extreme.
Pitt should play Duquesne every year and has yet to provide one coherent reason for failing to do so. Duquesne fans are claiming that Pitt is afraid to lose to the Dukes. Capel insists he is not afraid to play Duquesne or anyone. But if he really wants people to believe that, he could prove it by committing to playing the game.