PC Friars vs. URI Rams Rivalry: The Fans Speak

What makes a college basketball rivalry?

I’ve thought about this question a lot in context of the rivalry between the Providence Friars and the Rhode Island Rams. I’ve thought about what makes this rivalry great. Is it the long history between these two programs? Is the rivalry made great because of the recent successes of both team? What about the new players that automatically become part of the history and lore of this rivalry every year?

I would argue that a rivalry is made great by the fans.

So, for today’s Five Point Play I decide to do a little research, social media style, and spoke with both URI and PC fans about their own history with the rivalry, their perception on their own team and what their feelings are about the other. The responses often surprised me. Let’s dive in.

1. A Straight-Up Disdain

For some fans, the root of the PC-URI rivalry is that they simply can’t stand the other side’s fanbase.

This became clear as I spoke to fans on both sides and asked them to explain their feelings. Typically, URI fans felt that PC fans were entitled and obnoxious, acting as if they’d gone to the Sweet 16 every year under Cooley. They also feel that PC tries to shun them, acting as if the game isn’t important, while the game is actually a sellout every year and they should acknowledge that.

Friar fans, on the other hand, feel that Rhody fans are self-righteous about their own team and that they also don’t “pay tribute” to the fact that the Friars have beaten them more often. Some also feel that Rhody fans “dish it out” but can’t “take it in” when it’s given back to them.

This is pretty surface level and certainly not true of all fans by any means, but a good percentage of the ones I communicated with had no affinity for the other team at all – a definite fan “thing” more than an actual team or school issue.

2. The Side-Switchers

One of the most interesting parts of this rivalry are the allegiances – and how they don’t always remain constant.

In several of the conversations I had with fans, it seemed that some of them had started by loving one team, only to switch to the other at some point down the line. This typically happened with PC fans who grew up liking the Friars, but then attended URI and found themselves rooting for their new team in Keaney Blue.

While this is understandable, what I found most interesting here is that initially these fans wanted both teams to do well, but over time that feeling evolved into a definite preference for the team associated with the school they attended. What’s even more interesting to me, however, are the fans who don’t change…

3. Deep in Enemy Territory

Of all the responses I got, perhaps the most curious were the fans of one team who would attend the other school but remain loyal to the team of the school they were not attending.

This, again, seemed more common with PC fans going to URI, but remaining loyal to the Friars – much to the chagrin of their URI peers.

It’s hard to say what’s more interesting to me – fans who change their allegiance from one side of the rivalry to the other, or fans who cheer for one team while enmeshed in the other’s community. I think this speaks to the rivalry’s fun, and really does highlight the importance of the fandom community. Some seem to adopt a new fandom when they adopted a new community, and others seem to passively enjoy being a point of contention among their community – a la being a Red Sox fan in New York, or a Patriots fan literally anywhere other than in New England. Not only does it add a little spice, it keeps things interesting and exciting. Another group of fans seem to be loyal to the state and actually do pull for both teams in general – but do take a side when the two teams play each other.

4. The Bragging Rights – or Lack Thereof

Hey, surprise-surprise: fans of one team want their team to win so they can brag about it.

I think this is particularly important in this rivalry because of the proximity of the two schools and the size of the state itself. Friends no doubt know friends who went to one of the schools while they attended the other, and that means they can give each other the business when their team wins or the other team loses.

But maybe even more important than the bragging rights for your own team is knowing that the other side will have to “shut up” about their own team. The other side losing the rivalry game is, for many, a muzzle on the smack talk for 11 months; an effective cease-fire.

And some fans really don’t view URI as their legitimate rival in the sense that URI is not as hated as a BC or UCONN. They simply don’t want to have to hear about URI-PC from their URI friends and peers. They’d rather place their attention elsewhere on other teams they dislike considerably more.

5. It’s All Part of the Story

I have spoken to many fans for both PC and URI during the writing of this story, and I’ve learned a lot. Perhaps the thing I’ve heard most frequently is that the rivalry drives their fandom.

In all of these tweets there a couple of common elements: they love their team, they hate the other, and there’s some family or friend connection that really ties them to this rivalry.

The rivalry isn’t about the color of the jersey, the name of the team, or the mascot you root for. It’s about the connection and the emotion associated with that.

One story I received was a private message from a woman named Lisa Holley. Lisa grew up a PC fan but now has a URI logo as her Twitter profile. She responded to my tweet asking for stories about experiences with the rivalry with her own anecdote.

Lisa told me about a time when her mother had been ill, eventually passing away in September 2014. During her mourning, her husband had gotten her a surprise to lift her spirits. Thinking it was a trip to somewhere warm, she was surprised to learn it was season tickets to URI basketball – especially shocking since she was a PC fan. Her husband explained that he had met URI coach, Dan Hurley, who told him about what he felt was a mega-talented incoming recruiting class being talented and what a great season it promised to be.

Lisa reluctantly went to a game, mindful of her PC fandom, only to fall in love with the Ryan Center, the atmosphere, and the fact that the Rams were another local team that could use – and deserved – support.

But for Lisa, it’s not really about a gym or a team. To her, these tickets and her newly sparked passion for URI came as a lasting gift from her late mother, who was a huge college basketball fan. The Rams brought Lisa closer to her passed mother at a time she needed it, and URI became her team because of that connection.

I know on my side I can think of so many stories that keep me a Friars fan that have nothing to do with basketball at all. The rivalry and basketball are just conduits that, in a way, bring us all closer to something more important, whether that something be loved ones, community, or just positive life experiences.

PC Friars vs URI Rams