During a 2018 Syracuse Orange football season to remember, there were a lot of “first time since 2001” exclamations to explain just how special and rare that run really was. Well, with the men’s basketball season now complete, you can also add another “fun fact” to the list:
The 2018-19 academic year was the first where SU football team was more successful than the men’s basketball team since 2001-02.
That season, the football squad went 10-3, played in the Insight.com Bowl and finished 14th. The basketball team, meanwhile, went 23-13 and played in the NIT Final Four.
If it seems like a rarity that football did better than basketball now — it certainly wasn’t always. Though 2018-19 was the lone instance this century, it actually happened five separate times from 1990-99 as well. Playing in three straight major bowl games (Liberty, Fiesta, Orange), Syracuse football was better than basketball each season from 1996-97 through 1998-99. They were also in 1992-93 when the football team made the Fiesta Bowl and finished sixth, and in 1991-92, when they played in the Hall of Fame Bowl and finished 11th.
While some of the years are more clear cut (2018-19 and 2001-02 both are), it’s not the case for every one of these academic years. In four of those years in the 1990s, both teams finished the season ranked.
The 1991-92 season wasn’t so much of a close call (football was 11th while basketball was 21st), but 1997-98 was especially close with the Fiesta Bowl-bound football team finished 20th and basketball finishing 21st after a Sweet 16 exit. In 1990-91, you’d probably rather remember the Aloha Bowl and 21st-place finish instead of the Richmond loss (though the Orange still finished ranked 7th). The 1995-96 season featured a national runner-up basketball team and a 16th-ranked Gator Bowl football squad.
With the near 20-year downturn of the football program, it should come as no surprise that all of the seasons that finished with neither team ranked were since 2000. The six occasions were all since GERG took over the football program: 2005-06, 2006-07, 2007-08, 2014-15, 2016-17 and 2017-18.
A long offseason is ahead for both sports, so we’ll see if this winds up a one-year occurrence or potentially becomes the norm for awhile at SU. We all became far too accustomed to the “can’t wait until basketball season” refrain when talking about Orange sports. Well, that narrative may be flipping. (though hopefully not too much, otherwise this place is going to burn to the ground from December to March every year)