Georgetown-Syracuse basketball series to resume in 2015-16

Former players, coaches, journalists and alumni recall the history of the rivalry. (Jayne Orenstein/The Washington Post)

Georgetown and Syracuse, whose fierce rivalry defined the glory days of the original Big East Conference, will resume their storied men’s basketball series with a four-year home-and-home series scheduled to tip off at Verizon Center during the 2015-16 season.

The games will alternate between the two home arenas, with the 2016-17 clash to be contested at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y., the 2017-18 game returning to Verizon and the series ending in 2018-19 at Syracuse.

“It’s something that I don’t think ever was in doubt,” Georgetown Coach John Thompson III said in a telephone interview. “We were going to do this. It’s a game, it’s a tradition that not only means a lot to both institutions but means a lot to college basketball.

“From the very first point when they left the Big East, [Syracuse Coach] Jim Boeheim and I talked and said, ‘We’re going to continue this.’ There never was a doubt. We knew we’d figure out a way to make it happen.”

While the series dates from 1930, it assumed far greater significance in 1979 once the Big East Conference was born, with Georgetown and Syracuse charter members of a league that became known for bruising basketball rooted in tough-nosed urban markets.

The enmity between the rivals ramped up considerably following the final game at Syracuse’s Manley Field House on Feb. 12, 1980, which Georgetown won to end a 57-game winning streak. In the news conference that followed, Coach John Thompson Jr. declared that Manley Field House was “officially closed,” which riled Syracuse partisans for decades to come.

Syracuse’s decision to leave the Big East for the ACC beginning last season escalated the demise of a hybrid league already in turmoil, as member schools that played big-time football kept defecting for like-minded leagues with more lucrative broadcast agreements.

Georgetown and six other basketball-centric schools ended up breaking away to form a basketball-driven league that retained the Big East name, while adding Butler, Creighton and Xavier.

Attendance at Verizon Center has suffered for it. Georgetown’s average attendance plunged 20 percent in its first season in the revamped Big East, down from 10,911 in 2012-13 to 8,670 in 2013-14, according to NCAA data. The fact that the Hoyas didn’t host a marquee non-conference opponent at Verizon last season didn’t help, either.

A four-year home-and-home series with Kansas, which started last season, should help.

But nothing packs Verizon Center like Georgetown’s games against Syracuse, the foe Hoya fans most love to hate. A record crowd of 20,972 packed Verizon Center for the schools’ final regular season clash, in which the Hoyas routed their long-time nemesis, 61-39, to complete a regular season sweep in March 2013. Syracuse leads the series, 49-41.

Said Georgetown Athletic Director Lee Reed, who hammered out the details with his Syracuse counterpart, Daryl Gross: “The reestablishment of this series is good for college basketball fans across the country. I know that our program and fans will be excited to have a game against Syracuse on our schedule. This is something that both schools have worked very hard to have happen.”

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