Joly: Loss of Albany Cup is loss for Capital Region
At exactly 1 p.m. Thursday afternoon, UAlbany sent out its 2018-19 mens’ basketball non-conference schedule to members of the media. At 1:01 p.m., Siena followed suit.
In both releases, a statement that the annual rivalry between the schools was not going to continue this season, along with statements from the respective athletic directors, UAlbany’s Mark Benson and Siena’s John D’Argenio, essentially stating that they were disappointed that, after almost a year of negotiations, the two schools failed to get a deal done and would continue to talk about re-starting the rivalry in coming years.
This season will mark the first year since 2000 that the game has not happened. This annual matchup has invigorated the Capital Region’s local sports fans, creating an identity of whether you rooted for UAlbany or Siena in this game.
However, in the past five years or so, the logistics behind the game have changed fundamentally. Siena won eight of the first nine matchups from 2001-2009, all of them being held at Times Union Center (then branded as the Pepsi Arena until 2006). Since then, UAlbany has won six of the past eight matchups, including their 74-69 triumph last December.
The issue here is that every edition except in 2016, the game was held on Siena’s home court. They want to continue to have it on their home floor every year. UAlbany, on the other hand, wants the game to rotate between the Times Union Center and their SEFCU Arena.
If arena capacity was the only issue here, having it at the Times Union Center every year is the obvious choice. What they did in 2017 was a step in the right direction, essentially splitting the arena into two halves and making one half for Siena, the other for UAlbany.
However, having it at the Times Union Center, where Siena plays all of their home games, year in and year out, has a sense of unfairness to it. It is where Siena is most comfortable playing, not having to deal with a different surrounding, a visitor’s locker room, and everything that comes with being a visiting team. Home-court advantage, especially in such a sport as college basketball because of the student section, and atmosphere, and the comfort factor, is huge and Siena having it every year seems unfair to UAlbany and their fans.
That being said, the 2016 matchup at SEFCU Arena was encompassed in controversy. UAlbany gouged ticket prices, with a single-game ticket hovering in the $60 range, and made it so it would be much easier for UAlbany fans to acquire tickets to the game than Siena fans. Siena lost that game, making Siena fans and the administration hesitant to go back there, and for good reason at that. If they are to host every other year, a system of checks and balances need to be put in place to assure that that does not happen again, something agreed upon by both programs as for ticket revenue sharing and accessible tickets for both fan bases, even if that does mean season tickets do not apply for that game, which could work for both venues.
In addition, this is no better time than ever for Siena to acknowledge that they are not the top dog in the area anymore. They are probably destined for another season near or at the bottom of the MAAC and have not reached the NCAA tournament in nearly a decade. In the time where Siena has struggled for the most part, UAlbany has reached The Big Dance three times since Siena’s last appearance in 2010, winning a play-in game in 2014 and having finished with a record better than .500 every year since 2010. It’s safe to say that UAlbany is no longer playing second-fiddle to Siena in Albany, and it’s time for Siena to come to that realization.
The Albany Cup is a huge part of local sports. It’s more than just what the final score of the game is, but about the identity of each school, like the Mayor’s Cup trophy between Union and RPI hockey, and the community as a whole. If the Albany Cup has indeed come to a close, at least for now, one thing is for sure: right now, everyone loses.
Aidan Joly can be reached via email, email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @ByAidanJoly