made a big move Tuesday, shifting their long-running basketball rivalry off campus and into the much larger Mellon Arena.
The annual "City Game" is scheduled for Dec. 2 and will be televised on CBS College Sports. It was announced at a joint news conference with the respective coaches and athletic directors -- Pitt's Janie Dixon and Steve Pederson, and Duquesne's Ron Everhart and Greg Amodio.
Although the Dukes are designated as the home team, they'll be the underdogs -- and their fans likely outnumbered -- when they face the sure-to-be Top 25-ranked Panthers in the first neutral-site "City Game" since 2001's contest at the Igloo.
"To me, this is what college basketball is all about. It's where Duquesne used to play every game," said Dukes coach Ron Everhart, who saw many of those games while growing up in West Virginia. "From that standpoint, I was very excited to have as young a team as we have face the type of challenge it would be to play in the Civic -- I've got to say Mellon Arena now -- and have the type of crowd and hostile environment that it's going to be."
Former Pitt greats like Sam Clancy were in the crowd at the news conference -- a reminder of the long history that exists between the two schools.
"I didn't understand it coming here 11 years ago, but I figured it out very quickly," Dixon said. "It's just, you know, the kids playing against each other in the summer, the familiarity they have with one another, and then the history and tradition of the game. All of those come together and make it a different event ... I definitely think the players and fans, it's a different level of intensity. There's obviously different things that go into a game when you're so familiar with the people you're playing against."
Back when it was still called Civic Arena, Duquesne used Mellon Arena as its home court from 1964 until the Palumbo Center opened in 1988.
Now, as the arena prepares for its final year of operation -- the Consol Energy Center across Centre Avenue will be ready in 2010 -- Dixon called it the "right thing and the classy thing and the best thing for the city" for Pitt and Duquesne to help close the old building.
"Any time you have an arena that's meant so much to people, I think it should go out in the right way, and I think both Duquesne and the University of Pittsburgh realize that and did the things necessary to bring that about," Dixon said.
When Pitt's Petersen Events Center opened in 2002, the City Game turned into a true home-and-home series, being played there and at Duquesne's Palumbo Center in alternating seasons.
At the time, moving the game to campus arenas made sense. Pitt and Duquesne were both slumping, which made it tough to sell out the 17,000-plus seats at Mellon Arena.
But the schools expect to see renewed interest in the City Game now. Pitt is coming off an Elite Eight appearance in the NCAA tournament, while Duquesne won 21 games and went to the National Invitation Tournament last season.
"I just think it's going to do wonders for our program and would be great for our kids -- and they specifically want to do that. It's something that they're very excited about," Everhart said of playing at Mellon Arena.
In a trivia note, the arena's first basketball games were a 1961 doubleheader of Duquesne vs. Carnegie Tech and Pitt vs. Ohio State -- and now, Pitt and Duquesne will play the final hoop game in the building's near-50-year history.
Mellon Arena general manager Jay Roberts -- a self-described lifelong fan -- said he had been doing "a little arm-twisting" with Amodio and Pederson for some time.
"I've been a college basketball fan since I've been born, so getting this game here was something I've wanted to do for a couple of years now, since we knew that there was an end in sight" for the arena, Roberts said.
"This is Duquesne's home game. We're very appreciative of the fact that they were willing to move the game here. They're obviously the ones who had to make this happen," Pederson said.
This year's Pitt-Duquesne game marks the end of a four-year contract between the schools. Terms of any future games -- and where they may be played -- will have to be negotiated.
But those concerns will be settled later. For now, basketball fans know they can look forward to a festive atmosphere in December -- possibly including throwback uniforms and some of the Panthers and Dukes who once wore them.
"It's a celebration, not only of the many years Mellon Arena has been in existence, but also the rivalry," Amodio said. "I believe we've got a unique opportunity to bring former players back and people associated with that rivalry, and make it a special evening all the way around."
CITY GAME HISTORY
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