Sunday, July 01, 2018

Rivalries Come and Go

Rivalries can be transitory.  We tend to envision them lasting forever, but many are relevant only within a context of time.  Syracuse and Georgetown were a mighty rivalry.  From the 1979-1980 season to 2012-2013, when the original Big East conference disbanded, the two teams had a 36-36 record against each other.  The two teams were in the Big East for 34 seasons, and met each other 14 times in the Big East tournament, splitting the games 7-7.  Syracuse would win 9 regular season titles and 5 Big East tournament titles; Georgetown would win 10 regular season titles and 7 Big East tournament titles. 

The two teams have played three times since Syracuse left the Big East, and they will play a fourth time this coming December.  But the game has lost some luster; it is played in the non-conference schedule and the game has no significance is overall standings. 

It may be hard for fans to realize it, but Colgate used to be the biggest rival for Syracuse in all sports.  The rivalry was fierce; there were instances of brawls on the court and field.  Often the basketball game was the last one of the season to give it the honor to close out the year.  From the early 1900s to probably the mid 1930s, it was the top game.  The series still had competitive games through the 1960s. Today the Orangemen and Raiders have met more times than any other SU opponent, with 170 games.  But the two teams have gone different directions, and other than being a annual game at the Dome early each season, the game has little significance.

Which brings me back to the transitory nature of rivals such as Georgetown.  Big East fans would of course point to the Orangemen and Hoyas as one of the top rivalries in the conference, if not the top. But the two teams were hardly rivals prior to the Big East.  They had played 17 times prior to the conference being formed, and most of those games where from 1937 to 1943.  The last scheduled game was in 1967; they met in 1974 in an early season tournament, and in 1979 in the ECAC playoffs.  The Big East built their rivalry, and frankly with the Big East gone, the rivalry will dissipate.

Surprisingly, the Orangemen did not have a rivalry with most of the original Big East teams prior to the formation of the conference.  Of the original 9 teams in the Big East (*note I count Pitt and Villanova as originals even though they didn’t join the first season), only three were rivals of the Orangemen.

Syracuse had played the Pitt Panthers 44 times from 1914 to 1979, and they played the Panthers basically every year from 1952 to 1979.  The 113 games against Pitt is third all-time on the Syracuse opponent list.  Surprisingly, Pitt isn’t really viewed as a big time rival, despite the long time history and meaningful games they played later in the Big East conference.
Syracuse and St. John’s played each other 29 times from 1912 to 1979, and played each year from 1969 to 1979.  In the 50s and 60s St. John’s routinely beat the Orangemen, but the tables were turned in the 70s as the Orangmen routinely beat the Redmen.

Connecticut is the third team from the Big East who was a rival prior to conference play.  It wasn’t an early rival as the two teams did not meet until 1956.  But from 1956 to 1979 they played 21 times, almost every season.  Syracuse led the series 17-4 before conference play.  UConn was not a contender in the early years of the Big East, and so UConn did not get the same prestige to Orange fans as Georgetown, St. John’s or Villanova.  But once Jim Calhoun arrived in 1987, things started to heat up.

As mentioned earlier, the rest of the teams in the Big East were relatively newcomers to the Orangemen.  Georgetown was only 17 games, and very few recent, as previously discussed.

Syracuse and Boston College played 12 times, all between 1959 and 1978.  

The Orangemen only met the Seton Hall Pirates three times, in 1948, 1949 and 1951.  The two squads had not met in 29 years prior to the conference play. 

Syracuse and Villanova only played three times, in 1946, 1966 and 1979, the latter two both being tournaments. 

Syracuse and Providence had played only twice, in 1969 and 1974.

So it is not like Syracuse had big rivalries prior to the Big East for most the schools. The nature of the conference, and the routine playing built those rivalries.

Who were the most common Orangemen foes prior to conference play?  We had already discussed Pitt, UConn and St. Johns, as well as Colgate.

These were the other top teams the Orangemen had played:

Penn State 103 games from 1902 to 1979 (we’ve only played twice since)
Cornell 96 games from 1901 to 1979
Niagara 77 games from 1910 to 1979 (four times since)
Rochester 64 games from 1902 to 1974 (none since)
Canisius 53 games from 1945 to 1979 (seventeen times since)
Penn 46 games from 1902 to 1979 (once since)
Fordham 39 games from 1928 to 1979 (only five times since)
St. Lawrence 34 games from 1901 to 1947 (none since)
Buffalo 29 games, from 1918 to 1979 (four times since)
Army, 30 games from 1912 to 1974 (no games since)
LaSalle 28 games, from 1954 to 1978 (three games since)
Princeton 28 games, from 1905 to 1964 (six games since)
West Virginia 26 games, every year from 1961 to 1979
Temple 26 games, from 1942 to 1979 (four times since)
Manhattan 25 games from 1913 to 1979 (five times since)
Holy Cross 23 games, from 1949 to 1973 (four times since)
Dartmouth 22 games, from 1904 to 1956 (none since)
NYU 21 games, from 1910 to 1964 (none since)
Rutgers 20 games, every year from 1971 to 1979

Some of these teams dropped off the schedule as they de-emphasized basketball, or moved to a different level.  Others simply became a logistics problem once the Big East conference began. 
If Syracuse were to have joined a Basketball-Only conference in 1979-1980 that was composed of our top ‘rivals’ at that time, and keeping a marketing perspective in mind, thus avoiding smaller schools in small cities and nearby proximity to Syracuse, the basketball conference probably would have looked like this:

West Virginia
Penn State
St. Johns

Obviously the Big East conference built the rivalries we now know.  But rivals come and go.  The ACC currently has some very long-standing rivalries; as it should, it is a well established conference and many of the incumbent teams have long histories with each other. It will take quite a while for the Orangemen to be a true rival with those schools, though I think Virginia may start getting a feeling of a rivalry based on recent games.

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