Fans attending the West Virginia-Pitt game Thursday night at Petersen Events Center might want to hang onto their game programs. The 184th installment of the men's basketball Backyard Brawl could be the last one for a while.
West Virginia is moving to the Big 12 Conference July 1 and there are no guarantees the two schools will play a non-conference game in 2012-13.
Pitt and West Virginia first played a men's basketball game in 1904 and have played every season since 1917-18. For the past eight seasons they have played twice a season in Big East Conference play.
West Virginia leads the series, 95-88, but Pitt has enjoyed the upper hand in recent years, winning 19 of 29 since the Mountaineers joined the Big East in 1995.
The Panthers and Mountaineers have been in the same conference four times -- the Eastern Intercollegiate Conference (1932-39), Eastern Collegiate Basketball League (1976-77) and Eastern Eight (1977-82) before the Big East. When they were not in the same league they always scheduled non-conference games.
That might not happen this time. Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said Tuesday that most, if not all, of Pitt's non-conference schedule is done for next season. Dixon also said the decision is not solely up to him.
"We'll see what happens," Dixon said. "Things are changing. A lot of things are going on. When things settle, we'll go from there. No decision will be made [right away].
"I think it's been a great experience for us. I'm not the one who makes all the decisions. There's a history way before I got here. There are a lot more people who have been through a lot more games than myself. It means more to some. We'll see how everything plays out. We have to see how everything falls."
Dixon was asked whether he will take into account that the game has been played every year for almost a century.
"Sometimes there are things you can control and sometimes there are things you can't," he said. "I don't know where this one will fall. I haven't sat down and looked at what we need to do. No decision will be made [right now] for good reasons. We won't make any decisions at this point. Let's get all of the information, see where we stand. The biggest issue for us is a football game. That's what we have to be focused on as a university."
The NCAA allows 31 regular-season games for men's basketball. Pitt has played 13 non-conference games the past few years since the Big East went to an 18-game league schedule.
The Panthers play Duquesne every year and have played Robert Morris on a regular basis. They play two games in the Preseason NIT next season and likely another against a Southeastern Conference team in the Big East-SEC Challenge. That would leave eight openings on the schedule, but most of those slots in seasons past have been for non-power conference teams that come to Petersen Events Center for a fee without a return game.
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said Tuesday he planned to talk with Dixon after the season is over about continuing the series. He said he would be surprised if the two parties could not find a way to play the game.
"I'd be shocked," he said. "We've been playing since 1904. We're all looking for good non-conference games."
Pitt and West Virginia are forever linked with their histories. Pitt played West Virginia in 1904 before the university fielded a varsity team. They also played an unsanctioned game in 1905 before the first recognized game between the two schools took place in 1906, the first season the Panthers fielded a varsity squad.
The two universities have kept each other in mind when planning historic moments as well. The final basketball games played at the Pitt Pavilion, Fitzgerald Field House and WVU Field House were between Pitt and West Virginia.
Pitt won all three games. There have been dozens of other memorable games, many recently.
• In 2006, No. 14 Pitt beat No. 9 West Virginia, 57-53, at Petersen Events Center. It was the first time in 169 games between the two schools that both teams were ranked in the top 25.
• In 2008, Ronald Ramon made a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from the corner to give Pitt a 55-54 victory at Petersen Events Center.
• In 2010, the longest game in series history, a triple-overtime thriller, saw the Panthers erase a seven-point deficit with less than a minute remaining in regulation.
Count senior forward Nasir Robinson among those who will be sad if the series does not resume.
"It's been going on for a long time," Robinson said. "It's going to hurt with them going to the Big 12. Wish they could stay. I won't be here, but I think they should keep it. They're moving on. Good luck to them."
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @rayfitt1.