Photo: Courtesy of 9News. DU will be huddling up in the Coors Events Center in Boulder next season.
It was one of the first questions Rodney Billups was asked on May 14th, 2016 when he became the Pioneers head coach. Would he schedule games with his former employer, the Colorado Buffaloes, and renew a front range rivalry that had been dormant for 10 years? Billups said he would try. His former boss, Tad Boyle, was asked the same question. Of course, Boyle said that he would do everything he could do to help his protege but was noncommittal on scheduling a basketball game against DU.
In an article in the Boulder Daily Camera, CU Buffs to Renew Rivalry with the University of Denver, it was confirmed that Denver would be making a trip to Boulder to play the Buffaloes next season. DU fans hoped this day would come but never so fast – Billups’ second season at the helm. This game will mark the return of Rodney Billups and assistant coach Ricardo Patton to the Coors Events Center (with dates yet to be determined). It will be an incredible moment for these two coaches to return to Boulder and compete against a program that was so important to each of their careers.
This also gives Pioneer fans a game early in the season to build credibility, respect and create ‘fan momentum’ with a high visibility regional match. Heck, DU fans may even travel to this game!
Of course, power conferences are reluctant to schedule non-conference games against smaller rivals. Just as the University of Indiana learned early this past season. Indiana was ranked 5th in the nation. As a favor, they scheduled a game against Fort Wayne, a Summit League peer of Denver, and they were defeated 71-68 in OT. The game was in Fort Wayne, Indiana and exposed powerhouse Indiana to a loss against an extremely motivated, smaller squad. Indiana never recovered.
The lesson to the power five schools is this: Why take the risk of damaging both their image and regional status against a minor foe? The dilemma is especially true for universities like DU which are not a top 100 RPI team (yet). A loss to Denver would be especially damaging to the Buffs. Frankly, there is little to gain when Colorado could play Georgia Southern, Troy, UMKC, Evansville, Southern Illinois and a host of other mid-major teams with much less brand risk.
This is the life of a mid-major program such as Denver. If a mid-major program is weak, large regional rivals do not want to play them and take a risk of an upset because an inferior opponent will crush their image and RPI. However, if the mid-major is too good – the large programs do not want to take the risk either. Case in point, the University of Kansas will not play Wichita State because of the potential damage to their regional power and influence.
While DU is hardly a Wichita State powerhouse, renewing the rivalry is a huge plus for Front Range basketball. Both CU and CU head coach Tad Boyle should be complimented for renewing this basketball rivalry. While this move may not be in the best short-term interests of CU, it is in the best interest of the game locally.
And the news even gets better for regional basketball fans.
The Buffs also will renew their rivalry with Northern Colorado in Boulder and host Air Force in the third game of a four-year agreement with the Falcons. CU visits Colorado State as well in the final game currently under contract for the state’s biggest college basketball rivalry, though CU coach Tad Boyle has previously expressed confidence the series will remain ongoing.
This creates the longer term possibility of a Front Range basketball tournament that LetsGoDU has talked about in the past. Can you image the excitement of a Front Range holiday basketball tournament at the Pepsi Center with CU, DU, Air Force, Wyoming, and Northern Colorado? Sure it’s a dream, but let’s just be thankful now that CU is throwing open their nonconference schedule to front range foes.
As for DU, this will be a road game that will be on all Pioneer fan calendars next season. If possible, DU should try to add the CU game to the season ticket package next season to goose sales and make some noise in Boulder.