Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve always found the Georgetown-Syracuse rivalry a little weird.
Great rivalries typically emerge out of similarities and powerful historic connections, not differences. Think about Michigan and Ohio State. They are two massive, public research universities in two states that share a border.
What about Duke-UNC? They’re 12 miles apart, and the rivalry blossomed in the 1980s and 1990s, when each side was coached by one of the five greatest coaches of all time in Coach K and Dean Smith.
As for professional sports, how about Red Sox-Yankees? Besides the fact that Boston and New York are the nation’s two oldest cities and are historic rivals, there’s the infamous link with the sale of Babe Ruth from Boston to New York.
Or Lakers-Celtics? They’re easily the two most storied franchises in NBA history, and the rivalry really kicked off during the years of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, the two most dynamic players in the league during the 1980s who also happened to play in the NCAA championship game against each other.
Georgetown-Syracuse? Where are the similarities or the historic links? We’re a relatively small school, while Syracuse is medium-sized. Both are private schools, but we’re a Jesuit institution and they’re non-sectarian. Syracuse is a good school academically, but it’s simply not on the level of Georgetown. Syracuse and Washington are cities of roughly the same size, but one is in the middle of nowhere and one is the nation’s capital. Geographically, we’re not even close to each other. Some might consider us both East Coast schools, but here in Washington, we’re as far away from Syracuse as we are from Cleveland.
What about the words “Manley Field House is officially closed?” Only the most hardcore Hoya and Orange fans have any idea what those words mean. If that’s the starting point of the rivalry, it’s a shaky foundation to build upon.
A Georgetown-Notre Dame rivalry would seem to make more sense. After all, those are the two most pre-eminent Catholic institutions of higher learning in the country. Georgetown-Maryland even might make more sense — you can get to College Park by hopping on the Metro. We may not play in the same conference, but that’s not a deal-breaker. Look at Louisville-Kentucky or USC-Notre Dame.
To a large degree, it appears that Georgetown and Syracuse are simply rivals of convenience. We’re good schools with relatively storied histories, but neither is consistently elite like a Duke or a UNC. We recruit solid players, but neither brings in elite prospects consistently anymore. This has meant that the games are usually very competitive and go down to the wire. In fact, 13 of the last 17 Georgetown-Syracuse matchups have been decided by single digits.
In an article in The Washington Post last month, Syracuse Head Coach Jim Boeheim endorsed this interpretation, declaring, “great games make great rivalries.” But my question is, what happens if the games stop being great? What happens if Georgetown moves ahead of Syracuse in the pecking order, or God forbid, Syracuse establishes itself as a program a cut about Georgetown? Will the rivalry still mean as much?
For the most historic rivalries, temporary imbalances don’t have much of an effect. Even though Ohio State has won seven games in a row against Michigan, the Big Game is as big as ever. Rich Rodriguez’s failure to beat the Buckeyes is one of the main reasons the Wolverines let him go after only three years as their coach. The Red Sox didn’t win a championship for 86 years and the Yankees won 26 titles during that time span, and the rivalry didn’t diminish at all.
Right now, Georgetown-Syracuse is certainly one of the best rivalries in all of sports. But without the roots of other great rivalries, this one may not last forever. We should enjoy it while we can.
Parimal Garg is a senior in the College. Taking the Court appears in every other Friday edition of Hoya Sports.