By KEVIN McNAMARA
Forget the State House jockeying for choice seats, the scramble for spots at the Capital Grille bar and who gets to slip their SUV’s into the Dunkin’ Donuts Center’s free parking spots.
There will be no grudge match on the hardwood this winter. Alas, the coronavirus is still savaging college basketball.
Providence College Athletics Director Bob Driscoll and University of Rhode Island AD Thorr Bjorn announced last week that the Friars and the Rams will not play their annual men’s basketball game this season. The schools cited “issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the conflicts it has created with league scheduling requirements.”
The two schools did discuss potential holes in their still-developing schedules but could not agree on a suitable date. URI was clearly hoping to play the game, while Providence cited limited flexibility with several other non-league commitments and a likely early start to the Big East Conference schedule as key reasons to not making the game happen.
“We made every effort to play the game. I’ll leave it at that,” said Ram coach David Cox.
“We understand that the fans throughout Rhode Island enjoy our annual matchup with URI,” Driscoll said in a statement. “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.”
PC was set to host the state’s most intense annual sporting event this year at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence. The series will resume in 2021 at the Dunk.
“It is obviously disappointing to not be able to play the game, given its significance to both programs,” Bjorn said. “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.”
Here’s an update on what fans can look forward to with college basketball this winter and how some new parameters affected scheduling the PC-URI game.
The NCAA announced earlier in September that schools can begin preseason practice on Oct. 14. During the next 42 days, teams can work out up to 20 hours per week, up to four hours a day. The first day teams can play a scheduled game is moved up by more than two weeks to Nov. 25, or the night before Thanksgiving. No exhibition games or closed scrimmages are allowed this year.
The later start date is intended to allow schools to reduce populations on their campuses. At least two-thirds of Division One schools are planning to conclude their fall term or move classes and exams off campus after the Thanksgiving holiday break. This will create a more controlled environment for athletics teams to practice and compete.
The maximum number of basketball games allowed was reduced by four. PC is allowed to schedule 24 games and participate in its multiple-team event (Maui Invitational) for another three games. URI can schedule 25 regular season games and two more in its multiple-team event, the Hall of Fame Tip-Off. Other major programs have shown some reluctance to scheduling a full compliment of games so there remains a possibility that the Friars and Rams fall short of the maximum number of games they are allowed to play.
Commitments to play in the Maui and Hall of Fame events, plus a full conference schedule, limited opportunities for the Friars and Rams to agree on a play date, both schools say.
PC’s schedule looks like this:
** 20 Big East games. The addition of Connecticut is swelling the Big East schedule by two extra games. Last season the Big East was the top-rated conference via the NCAA’s NET rankings. The Friars, who finished 19-12 overall and 12-6 in the Big East, owned the 9th strongest schedule in the country.
** The Friars are set to play in the Maui Invitational, which is being moved to Harrah’s Cherokee Center in Asheville, N.C. Dates have yet to be announced but many reports say the event will be held Nov. 30-Dec. 2. Matchups have yet to be made public but the event will offer the Friars three top-shelf games with Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Stanford, Texas and UNLV in the field.
** PC is also expected to play in the Big East/Big 12 Battle. The Friars will play at TCU sometime in early December.
Those built-in games give Ed Cooley 24 high-end contests and allow for only three more games. PC will not play URI or Brown with one of those open slots. It is unclear if the Friars are entertaining a matchup with Bryant, the state’s other Division One school.
URI’s schedule is shaping up this way:
** 18 Atlantic 10 games. The Rams finished 21-9 overall and 13-5 in the A-10 last season but that wasn’t going to be enough to earn an at-large spot in the NCAA’s. The overall strength of the A-10 will be better this season, with Saint Louis and Richmond slated to top preseason polls. Getting non-league wins of note continues to be a must for all A-10 teams and that’s why not getting a chance to beat Providence (on the road) is a setback for Rhody.
**2 games in the Hall of Fame Tip-off at Mohegan Sun, Nov. 28-29. Rams face Marquette in the first game, but the other two teams in the bracket are not set in stone.
**Rams are set to host Seton Hall and travel to Boston College and Western Kentucky.
**That leaves up to four games for the Rams to schedule. They also could choose not to play the maximum of 27, per NCAA guidelines.
Cox pointed out that Atlantic-10 schools are waiting to see how programs in the Big East and other power conferences finalize their schedules. He’s hoping for another strong opponent or two to round out the schedule and offer enough challenges to give his team the chance to polish its resume.