Boston College: How a Pittsburgh game turned into a classic Catholic rivalry

Bob DeChiara-US PRESSWIRE

Villanova was told a few weeks ago that Pittsburgh wanted to play a different team over Labor Day weekend, but rather than ending up in the cold, they turned a bad situation into a chance to resume a rivalry with Boston College that had been on a 33-year hiatus.

Having an FBS opponent withdraw from a scheduled game against an FCS team at the last minute isn't an unusual phenomenon. It isn't even too unusual for FBS schools to drop other FBS teams from their schedule.

"I think it's common for games to get moved around," Villanova AD Vince Nicastro explained.

It has happened to Villanova before, in 2006 the Wildcats were supposed to open the season against their 1937 Bacardi Bowl opponent, Auburn. When the Tigers cancelled, the Wildcats ended up travelling to Orlando to face the UCF Knights instead, a big difference from an SEC team that had been coming off of a great season.

"My recollection is that Auburn had a schedule in the prior year, I think they played an FCS or two FCS [teams], they went undefeated and they weren't in the championship game because of their strength of schedule was impacted. So they just said, 'we're not playing FCS's, so we're just going to drop you.'

"We said, well, instead of just dropping us and sending us a check, is there a way we can find another FBS opponent and mitigate your damages a bit."

This time around, it was a little bit different.

"A couple of weeks ago, Pitt reached out to us about the ACC was crafting its schedule for next year and said that they had an opportunity to play Florida State on that Labor Day Monday window that they have, and that they would like to do it," Nicastro said. "So we looked at kind of moving our date with Pitt around and we didn't find anything really that made sense for us, or it can get really complicated in terms of multiple moves by our conference games, or theirs.

"So we said, lets look at, can we broker a comparable FBS game for us, through the collaboration of Pitt, the ACC and ESPN."

It was an easy decision for the Wildcats, work with the ACC, ESPN and Pittsburgh, to try and get a deal that worked out in Villanova's favor. The other option was to get paid off to have no game and have to scramble to find another opponent anyway.

"We said that if we could find a comparable FBS opponent and the financials made us whole, then we would accept the game."

A comparable FBS school meant something more than just a school offering a similar financial incentive. Villanova wanted to play in the right city, play a team with the right pedigree and one that they had some history with or similarities to. Boston College was, according to Nicastro, at the top of their list.

"We gave them a couple of names of schools that we thought were comparable," he explained, "and they came back with BC and it worked out."

Forget the old grudges over how BC left the Big East back in the early 2000s, the Wildcats wanted to play a game against a high profile program in New England — and even better if it was a school they had played 45 times prior to 1980, and shared a basketball conference with from 1980 through the 2005-06 season.

"I think its a great game," Nicastro explained. "When we talked the about the types of schools that we would like to play as a replacement game, they certainly were at the top of the list, and uh, the fact that we haven't played them in a lot of sports over time, and that we haven't been sending teams to Boston since they left the [Big East] conference, I think it's been something that hasn't been good for Villanova.

"We should be playing in New England and Boston, so it not only reignites that rivalry, but it will also be good for many alums we have up there in New England who will be able to see us play."

Things may have also worked out better for Boston College because of it. The Eagles had been slated to play new CAA conference member Stony Brook to open the season, but according to Nicastro, the Seawolves may have wanted out of that commitment.

"I don't know at all what the Stony Brook piece was; my understanding was that they were looking to get out of the game," he said.

With an away game at Boston College, Stony Brook would have opened the season with four straight road games — something they would have preferred to avoid. The Seawolves were also scheduled to play at Buffalo in 2013.

"I haven't spoken to them, I don't really know the backstory was," he clarified, but there was some motivation on the part of Boston College to bring in Villanova as an opponent. According to reports, Stony Brook may now sign on for a game against FCS power Sam Houston State instead.

In the end, Villanova managed to escape any harm from having a scheduling conflict with Pittsburgh's desire to play an ACC foe on Labor Day. In fact, by facing Boston College instead, they have perhaps found a way to connect with Boston-area alumni and to stir up old feelings of rivalry among the alumni and fan-base that can remember when Villanova playing Boston College was a big deal.

"I think it was a really good outcome," said Nicastro. "We want to play an FBS opponent. I prefer to try and find collaborative outcomes.

"We could have just said to Pitt, 'no we're not moving' and if you don't want to play the game, there's a mechanism for cancellation in there where it would have cost them money, but we would have had to find another game, and they would have had to find another game. That's not the position that I want to approach these types of issues from, so we worked together as a group to try and find a solution and this outcome, I think, was very positive for everyone."

Nicastro believes that the relationship between his department and his counterparts at Pitt and Boston College haven't been strained by realignment. Everyone has a job to do, he said, and the relationships remain strong enough that the parties can work together on solutions like the one that will bring Villanova to Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts at the end of the summer.

View BC Interruption's coverage of the game.

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