WVU Sports with Tom Bragg

It’s clear as day. Rivalries are what make college sports great.

Not “rivalries” formed over several hundred, if not a thousand, miles away. But those formed and fought right in your backyard.

Saturday evening, the West Virginia and Pittsburgh men’s basketball teams met on the hardcourt for the first time since 2012, ending the longest drought in the Backyard Brawl’s history since the two teams didn’t meet between 1908 and 1914.

WVU was heavily favored and jumped out to a 20-point lead in the first half. But as often happens in rivalry games, big leads evaporate.

The Mountaineers were able to hold off the Panthers, winning 69-60, despite foul trouble and the second-half comeback getting the home fans back into it.

More importantly than the final score, though, the game was another piece of evidence of what is lacking overall in college athletics.

Likely due to the long layoff between matchups, Saturday’s game wasn’t played in front of a packed house like it normally was when the two got together twice a year. Nor was the crowd as big as it might be next year when the game is played in Morgantown.

The Petersen Events Center was only 62 percent full and may have been made up by more WVU fans than Pitt supporters.

But the feeling in the air was there; reminiscent of the opening game of the football season when West Virginia played former rival Virginia Tech on the gridiron, just on a smaller scale.

Both games are evidence that rivalries need to return and stay.

Thank goodness for Mountaineer and Panther basketball fans that they get three more shots at this between now and the end of the currently agreed upon series that runs through the 2020-2021 season.

Even better, the series on the hardcourt leads into a four-game set on the football field that starts in 2022.

Maybe by then something will have changed. Maybe by then the importance of these rivalry games that we took for granted when they were a yearly or twice-a-year occurrence will be too much to ignore.

Commend those responsible for getting these two old foes back together for the time being.

Other conferences can keep their Iron Bowls, Red River Rivalries and notable rivalries, the good people of West Virginia and western Pennsylvania will take the Backyard Brawl any day of the week.