Following this week’s announcement that the Syracuse Orange and Georgetown Hoyas men’s basketball teams would be renewing the rivalry for another four seasons, it seemed there were two camps of reactions:
- “Hard meh”
I can understand where both groups are coming from, in all honesty. In past years, I’ve taken rather contrarian views on both the rivalry with Georgetown and UConn, respectively, and posited that perhaps we should just play neither. That’s very much an opinion of someone that graduated in this decade (2010) versus fans and alums of previous ones. But nonetheless, there’s reason to believe that without the allure of conference bragging rights, it’s hard to maintain a rivalry that was unique in college basketball because it wasn’t tethered to geography.
Look around the country at the rest of the sport’s most fiery (mostly) annual matchups, and that’s one of the biggest takeaways. Proximity plays a major part, and is the fuel that keeps these rivalries going. Some of the most notable examples — UNC/Duke, Kentucky/Louisville, Missouri/Kansas, Indiana/Purdue, Kansas/Kansas State, Michigan/Michigan State — all have close quarters as a defining trait. Syracuse vs. Georgetown has been unique in that it doesn’t need the claustrophobia to be heated. However, it may need the closeness that shared conference membership provides.
You all know the story of how Syracuse-Georgetown became a thing when John Thompson Jr. declared Manley Field House officially “closed” in February 1980. And the Orange and Hoyas certainly had a lot of memorable matchups after that inciting moment. Yet, all of those games were painted by the environment around them: a contentious Big East, the personalities of Boeheim and JT, and shared excellence between the two schools, especially in the 1980s and 00s. The same can’t be said for recent vintages of the rivalry.
For the last four matchups since Syracuse left the Big East, there have been close games (in fact, every matchup has been decided by single digits), but there are no stakes beyond bragging rights. Georgetown’s been an NIT team at best. Syracuse, a fringe NCAA Tournament squad that’s managed to get hot a couple times.
We (fans of the two programs) don’t see each other more than once per year, and there are minimal interactions for fans due to being a few hours away in separate geographic areas. Without the Big East, there’s just not the same level of importance — and “matter” to the game anymore.
Does that mean I don’t care about Syracuse/Georgetown? Hardly. We were in the Big East for the majority of my fandom and the entire time I attended SU. I despise the Hoyas and will for many years to come. The same can be said for most alums and fans that came before me. The mutual hatred comes from a shared history that defies geography like no other does in college hoops.
But is that enough going forward? That’s really where the concern comes in, and I think the question of “does this matter?” is worth considering. Without the Big East, there’s no real stakes, and without the history, there’s little teeth to this thing, either. It’s a nostalgia trip that moves a few more tickets than the NC State game would. The venom on their end largely comes from a jilted anger that we “betrayed” the league we helped found by pursuing greener pastures.
So long as those of us that were around for the Big East (to some extent) remain, the Syracuse-Georgetown matchup will “matter” — but I think we’re already seeing it as more of a fan event that anything of import to either program’s identity. That’s weird since both were technically forged in what this rivalry originally was. It’s what makes the bond so hard to break now. Whether we admit it or not, both the Orange and Hoyas became what they are/were because of the rivalry. You can’t just cut the cord on that.
As our bonds to the ACC grow, you’ll see more and more younger fans gravitate toward annual matchups with Virginia and Duke, and the pro-Georgetown faction potentially begins to fade. Jim Boeheim’s eventual retirement could be the ultimate death knell for the rivalry if the Hoyas don’t really improve under Patrick Ewing. From a numbers standpoint, they’re a decent program to schedule. But we could face better ones, aside from the shared history, unless they regain their former excellence.
Would it just take a few years off the schedule to end this thing for good? Or are both fan bases in it for the long haul? Where do you think the rivalry stands among the best in college basketball? Honestly curious to see people weigh in below.