It always used to be easy to have a finger on the pulse of fans and alumni associated with the Providence College-University of Rhode Island basketball rivalry.
To Rhody followers, PC is in a conference where it doesn’t belong and whose days of being relevant on a national scale ended many moons ago. PC fans counter that URI plays in an inferior league and is located off some dirt road in the middle of nowhere. Such fervor adds even more sugar and spice to the state’s most important annual sporting event and should help make the lights at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center shine a little brighter for today’s (4 p.m.) renewal of the series.
“Now you’ve got a game that means something to the people of the state,” said Providence athletic director Bob Driscoll. “Anytime you get a game with that kind of energy and passion, it’s a special game.”
While the players and coaches from both sides will be the ones determining the outcome, the PC-URI game is a gift to the fans. They are the one constant throughout the years and why we care about this game above any other.
The question is, do followers from the two schools still feel that way today, or has interest waned to the point that it’s simply viewed as the next game on the schedule?
Judging by the fact that tickets were still aplenty as late as Thursday, there’s enough evidence to suggest that fan enthusiasm has fallen off. And that’s a shame.
It’s no secret that the Friars have played in front of crowds you normally see attending a high school game. PC is averaging 4,629 paying customers through six home dates – a sum that makes that The Dunk, which seats 12,410, appear even larger. The massive wave of black seats could be attributed to the lack of a big draw schedule-wise, or that fans are simply disgusted with last season’s disastrous turn of events. They believe staying away is the best way to take a stand.
Still, when you hear and see that “plenty of seats still available for the URI game” at this late juncture, one has to wonder: Does PC-URI still rate as an important one?
Judging by some of the threads on the message boards – “Let’s Get Ugly” on the URI board wins for most creativity – there are a number of you out there who still place a high amount of emphasis on this day. But PC-URI should be about every fan, and when PC is announcing ticket packages during timeouts of its home games, you realize that things have changed – at least for this season.
“When you have a small state like this one and have two programs from different conferences, I think it makes for something very unique,” said Driscoll. “The perception is that the Atlantic 10 isn’t as good as the Big East, but they have some great teams there. Maybe (URI) is carrying a little bit more into it than unfortunately our kids do. I would like our kids to appreciate the value (of the Ocean State’s version of the Civil War) to the extent the URI players do because that’s why I think they perform so well.”
When word filtered out that tickets were still available by the bushel, URI fans should have instantly jumped at the chance to scoop them up. The door was left ajar by PC fans, which might be the nicest act of kindness one side has even done for the other legion of fans. Yet we read Wednesday on friars.com that 1,500 tickets remain unclaimed, so it’s clear that Ram fans don’t want any part of making that oh-so-treacherous trek up Route 4 and continue onward to the big city.
“Our tickets have been down a little this year. Some of that has to do with last year, but I think the economy does play a role unfortunately, with unemployment,” said Driscoll. “You can also sit at home and watch the game on TV too, so maybe you don’t want to spend the money. I think it’s a sign of the times but hopefully it will be a sellout by the time the game arrives.”
Maybe the lack of buzz surrounding PC-URI can be attributed to the fact that the game is being held the same week all everyone wants to talk about is Patriots-Jets. People it seems are more interested in about what the Red Sox are going to accomplish in free agency rather than whether Marshon Brooks or Delroy James are going to put on a scoring show. Instead the only true sporting event this state can lay claim to is fighting to gain interest from the populace.
Once again that’s a shame.
Back in the day this was a game played twice a year. Now it’s held once in early December. The schedule gets bogged down by so many irrelevant nonconference games, all done for the sake of buying wins. PC-URI, however, should stand out from the crowd. Regardless of the outlook of either team, this game shouldn’t have tickets available on the days leading up to the day of.
We care about this one.
Or at least we used to.