Last week, Pitt athletic director Heather Lyke announced that the City Game with crosstown rival Duquesne would be shelved for 2019. The announcement officially marked the end of a 48-year streak, as the rivalry matchup had been played every season since 1970.
Although the news was followed up by a statement revealing that an agreement in principle had been reached to schedule the game in 2020 and 2021, the break in the longstanding rivalry begged questions about its long-term future. However, Pitt head coach Jeff Capel discussed the status of the City Game and provided some insight into the circumstances of this year’s cancellation during an interview with Andrew Fillipponi and Chris Mueller of 93.7 The Fan on Monday.
”Our perspective is simple: Robert Morris is opening up a new building, and we were contacted by someone that’s really close with our university and Robert Morris about them wanting us to play in [the first game at the building],” Capel said. “And we said that we would do that. But in order to do that with 20 ACC games, with the Robert Morris game, with the game against West Virginia, with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, we just decided for one year we were not going to play the City Game and we would come back to it after a year and keep it going every year.”
”I have great respect for that game,” Capel continued. “I actually loved playing it last year. I loved it being at [PPG Paints Arena]. I loved the energy that was in the building. And so from our perspective it was ... mainly because of the thing with Robert Morris. [We wanted] to do this as a favor to Robert Morris, as a favor to someone that’s very close to both programs. We just felt like that was the best thing to do for our program for one year.”
The building Capel referenced is the UPMC Events Center, a facility in Moon Township that the Panthers and Colonials will christen on Nov. 12. Pitt’s affiliation with the sponsor of the arena begged questions about the details of the arrangement between the two schools, but Capel’s account of the talks suggested the deal was of a personal nature.
The Panthers coach did not name the person close to both schools, but it’s notable that former Pitt point guard Tray Woodall serves as an assistant coach at Robert Morris and is the only member of the Colonials coaching staff with any apparent ties to Pitt.
Pitt is 30-0 against Robert Morris, and the two Pittsburgh area teams last met in 2011. While it seems Pitt will make an effort to renew unpleasantries with Duquesne on a regular basis, the meeting with Robert Morris appears to be a one-off affair to celebrate the opening of the new arena. However, no definitive statement has been made regarding future matchups between Pitt and Robert Morris.