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Josh Williams celebrates a basket against Pitt. Photo credit: David Auth

OPINION: It’s time for the Pittsburgh basketball teams to play each other again

Tyler Gallo argues his case on why the Pittsburgh area college basketball programs should play each other again next season.

March 14, 2022

We all know the reasoning behind why we have not seen the Pittsburgh college basketball teams play each other in a while.

Duquesne is tired of losing to Robert Morris; Duquesne does not want the city game to be played at the Pete every year, and especially with a new arena. In the case of Pitt and Robert Morris, the Panthers just have better teams to schedule than Pittsburgh’s forgotten child of RMU. However, that game coming back is more likely.

The coaches off Pitt and Duquesne, Jeff Capel and Keith Dambrot, likely will not schedule another game against each other, either.

Duquesne and RMU used to play every year. Still, when the final seconds ticked off of the Colonials’ 66-59 victory over the Dukes on November 19, 2017, it marked the seventh win for the Colonials in the last eight meetings and an effective end to that rivalry game.

The Colonials’ 8-4 record over the Dukes since 2006 speaks volumes for that game not occurring. Duquesne is extremely stubborn to play against the other two teams.

It was an utter shock when it was announced that Pitt would be coming to the UPMC Events Center to open it up in 2019-20, and it was a perfect event for both the city and school; it gave RMU a sell-out in its first game in a new arena and the only non-playoff sellout they’d have that season.

Pitt had not been to Moon Township ever, and it was the first time the two teams met since 2012.

COVID-19 notwithstanding, as Selection Sunday has now passed, none of the Pittsburgh area college basketball teams are featured in the tournament for yet another year.

These teams have not played each other in a few seasons, and as they all head into their offseason with questions, I wholeheartedly believe it is time for that to change.

With each team languishing, there would be no better time than now to renew the rivalries. It could only mean amazing things for each campus to bring them back, as it has that real “we are better than you” feeling in the surrounding campuses and a buzz in the city; not quite the level of Duke-North Carolina, but it could get to that level.

It’s a good time for alumni to come back and check out the campuses and take in a big game that makes them want to come back and attend more.

This season, the Pittsburgh college basketball teams combined for a 25-69 record. RMU lost to the worst team in the country and Duquesne lost 17 in a row to close their year. It is time for this conversation again.

Duquesne and Pitt announced that the City Game would not be played this season, and while it made sense that Duquesne did not want to play at the Pete every season because they just got a new arena, it still left the schedule feeling incomplete.

Not seeing any of these teams schedule a game against each other this season was a huge letdown.

Shockingly enough about this whole ordeal? Duquesne played four games at the UPMC Events Center in 2019-20 when the UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse was being built and none came against Robert Morris. The University lent its new arena to Duquesne when they needed it and they still do not want to come here?

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Marcus Weathers blocks then-St. Bonaventure forward Justin Winston’s layup at the UPMC Events Center. Photo credit: Nate Smallwood

As someone who has been to pretty much every Robert Morris home game over the past three seasons, the Events Center has lacked a “big opponent” coming to town. They only had three non-conference home games this season.

The attendance issues of RMU games are well-noted; tune into a weekend game when the entire campus goes home. It’s not for lack of trying by the athletics department either, as they have shelled out some great promotions to get the fans to stay, but most take the free stuff and leave.

There is great evidence fans would pack the house for these games as well. The City Game averaged a near sellout its last few times at the Pete, and when it was held at PPG Paints Arena, around 14,500 fans came to see Pitt and Duquesne.

As for RMU and these opponents, the only time Pitt-RMU was in Moon was a sell-out and averaged a shade under 9,500 fans its two times before that. Even the average 2,000 fans showing up for RMU-Duquesne would be a step-up from what happens at a run-of-the-mill non-conference game.

The Events Center needs a game like that every year– a guaranteed sellout– to help grow the program, especially in a new conference.

Whenever I see a recruit post that they received an offer from Robert Morris, it’s permanently attached with a picture of one of two games; the Pitt game, or the NEC Championship, the only two sellouts in the UPMC Events Center’s history.

Imagine more sellouts during the year? Recruits are attracted to good crowds. In talking to several of RMU’s players who joined the team, many mentioned the atmosphere of the NEC Championship as one of the reasons they came here.

You can also echo that sentiment for the Coop because Duquesne needs a chance to shine their new venue, and while that will be done in the NCAA Tournament this year, they need it again in the future for a Duquesne game.

Whether it is a high mid-major/notorious team coming to town or one of these two teams, imagine how many people would show up as we saw in that Pitt game, whether here or at the Coop.

I’m not saying any power-five schools will come to Moon because that is extremely unlikely, but someone like Dayton or even St. Bonaventure coming to town would be great for the school.

Dayton plays RMU every year in football in their home-and-home series, so why not bring them for basketball? As for the Bonnies, I’m sure Mark Schmidt would love to reconnect with some of his old pals and take on the university that used to employ him.

This season, the Florida Gulf Coast game somewhat served that purpose, but it was not close to a sell-out. The student section showed out, which was great, but the rest of the crowd was virtually empty with an attendance of 1,171, the third-highest of the season.

Why take my opinion on this, though? I am certainly not the first to argue for this, and I won’t be here next year.

Heck, I’m not even the first person on our website to argue for these games coming back, as Logan Carney did it a few years ago when the RMU-Duquesne rivalry wasn’t renewed.

Regardless of how you take my opinion, one of these games needs to happen next year, no matter the site or teams playing in it, especially if you are a fan of any of the teams. Pittsburgh is growing tired of seeing losing basketball.

I’m not saying make a non-conference tournament with all the teams in it (although that would be great), but at least one of these games next year is significant for the schools and the city.