The annual grudge match between the University of Rhode Island and Providence College men’s basketball teams won’t happen this season.
In a joint press release Monday morning, the schools announced that scheduling conflicts created by the coronavirus pandemic made the showdown a tough fit this season. The game was originally scheduled to be held at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, which will now host the resumption of the series in 2021.
“We understand that the fans throughout Rhode Island enjoy our annual matchup with URI,” Providence Director of Athletics Bob Driscoll said in the release. “Unfortunately, the circumstances this season made it too difficult to schedule the game. We have had discussions with Thorr and the coaches at URI and we are all in agreement that we will resume the series next season.”
There have been rumblings that the decision to cancel the game was not entirely mutual. Meeting with media via Zoom on Tuesday, URI head coach David Cox didn’t dispel that notion.
“I can’t answer for them,” Cox said. “I know we made every effort to play the game. I guess I’ll have to leave it at that.”
College basketball teams around the country are juggling their schedules to fit new timelines. The season was originally scheduled to begin Nov. 10 but has been pushed back to Nov. 25.
The NCAA also previously announced a game cap reduced from 31 to 27 regular-season games, a development that leaves a school like Providence with not much wiggle room when it comes to scheduling nonconference opponents. PC will play a 20-game Big East schedule — UConn’s re-entry resulted in a jump from 18 league contests — and will be part of the relocated Maui Invitiational, which is taking place in Asheville, N.C. There’s still the matter of deciding what’s going to happen with the Gavitt Games and Big East-Big 12 Challenge, two one-game showcase events that were on the Friars’ radar before the arrival of the pandemic.
Rhode Island is expected to play 18 Atlantic-10 conference games, with two nonconference matchups in the Hall of Fame Tipoff Tournament and additional nonconference games against Seton Hall, Boston College and Western Kentucky, with two more games likely to be tacked on.
The loss of the Providence matchup – typically an opportunity for a quality win – makes the juggling harder.
“They were disappointed, absolutely,” Cox said of his players learning the news. “Obviously for us, probably moreso than PC, it’s a huge game. It’s a rivalry game. It’s huge for the fan base. It’s huge for both fanbases. But with regards to basketball and our aspirations of playing in the NCAA Tournament, it’s another opportunity for us each and every year. Without having that opportunity, it hurts our chances, so we’re going to have to go out and find a game of that same caliber. There’s a sense of disappointment, but the pandemic has put us in this position. It’s another situation where we’re going to have to kind of roll with the punches and make the best out of it.”
URI and Providence have met at least once — and sometimes twice — for 86 consecutive seasons. The series began in 1920, and the teams have met 131 times.
“There have been discussions with every team on our schedule about whether we were going to play,” Cox said. “We had these discussions with PC. Obviously, they had issues with the Dunk being closed. Where we were going to play the game, whether or not it was going to be at Mohegan or there with no fans – those were all conversations. I did not anticipate us not playing that game. That was a little bit of a disappointment. That’s just where we are right now. Timing-wise, it is what it is. We’re not alone in dealing with this type of scenario. Every other team in our conference is trying to fill gaps in our schedule now.”
URI won last year’s matchup 75-61 at the Ryan Center.
“It is obviously disappointing to not be able to play the game, given its significance to both programs,” URI Director of Athletics Thorr Bjorn said in the release. “We explored all possibilities of making it work, but the lack of schedule flexibility and challenges created by the pandemic prevented it. We look forward to resuming the rivalry in 2021.”