ALBANY — There are no agreed-upon games after Saturday’s matchups between the Siena College and University at Albany men’s and women’s basketball programs.
So, could Saturday’s Albany Cup games at Times Union Center be the last ones?
“I’m not going into it looking at it that way,” Siena athletic director John D’Argenio said Thursday.
The same goes for UAlbany athletic director Mark Benson. Each school’s AD met as planned a few weeks ago to start formal discussions about prolonging the series between the schools. Each said he came away from that meeting looking forward to speaking again in January.
“I think we’ve both been very open-minded about the series,” Benson said. “We had a really good conversation.”
“For me,” D’Argenio said, “there was nothing that we talked about that would make it so there was no need for another meeting.”
The Albany Cup has been contested every year since the 2001-02 season between Siena’s and UAlbany’s basketball programs. Beyond this year’s games Saturday at Times Union Center, though, there is no agreement in place to continue the series. In 2015, the programs reached a three-year deal to continue the series, which included last year’s first-ever trip to UAlbany’s SEFCU Arena.
That shift to SEFCU Arena was a point of contention a year ago in the lead-up to the games. UAlbany men’s head coach Will Brown has stated he wants the series to continue as a true home-and-home event, while Siena men’s head coach Jimmy Patsos voiced support last year for moving the game back full-time to Times Union Center — his program’s home court — because of the arena’s greater seating capacity. This year’s men’s game at Times Union Center is part of the Gotham Classic, so the arena’s lower bowl is split in terms of ticket purchasing.
Benson and D’Argenio each declined to get into specifics about their pre-Thanksgiving conversation about how a potential new deal could look. Neither AD, though, said the other side went into the meeting saying a certain arrangement was a deal-breaker.
“I don’t want to be in a position where anyone draws a line in the sand. These are early conversations,” Benson said. “Our focus is that the series continues and it’s equitable for both schools, and I think that’s what we have in the current agreement.”
Both Benson and D’Argenio made clear the hope on each side is to continue the series beyond Saturday’s 5 p.m. women’s game and 7:30 p.m. men’s game.
“This,” Benson said, “is something the community can rally around. . . . It’s a great rivalry. I hope everyone around it feels that way and it’s definitely one we want to continue — under the right circumstances.”
“It [the Albany Cup] promotes college basketball at a time of year where, quite frankly, college basketball doesn’t get as much exposure,” D’Argenio said. “College basketball seems to have been reduced to some of February, and then March. That’s what’s valuable about [the Albany Cup] for us. It attracts [8,000] to 12,000 people to watch college basketball in the Capital Region during the early part of the season.”
Of course, that last part’s only true if the game between the programs takes place outside of SEFCU Arena. Last year’s first-ever meeting between the teams at SEFCU Arena included a capacity crowd of 4,538. For this year’s game at Times Union Center, D’Argenio said 7,500 tickets had been sold as of early Thursday afternoon.
The schools announced their current three-year deal in June 2015. Without committing to a firm timeline, Benson and D’Argenio each indicated a new deal — if one is reached — would likely be similarly announced midway through 2018.
For this week, though, both Benson and D’Argenio said their focus is just on Saturday.
“We’ll continue the discussions about the future afterwards,” Benson said, “but part of a great rivalry is you want to be able to enjoy the actual game.”