After 33 years of loving to hate each other, Georgetown and Syracuse are going their separate ways, their fierce bond ultimately riven not by animosity but by the financial demands of big-time football. The Hoyas don’t play it; Syracuse does and now joins the exodus of former Big East schools to leagues with more football clout. As conference allegiances continue to shift throughout the nation, unsettling the once familiar landscape of college sports, basketball fans won’t soon forget a rivalry that for more than three decades delivered heartache and triumph in equal measure — as well as mutual respect.
John Reagan, Georgetown fan, creator of Hoyasaxa.com: “[Former Big East commissioner] Dave Gavitt once said, ‘The Big East is not simply a league of convenience but one of commitment.’ Thanks to the TV networks, that is no longer the case. ESPN built up the Big East, and they helped tear it down. Rivalries are now disposable because of money — the same money that leads Maryland to drop 60 years of games with Duke for the likes of Minnesota and Purdue, or for West Virginia to fly 1,500 miles for a midweek game with Texas Tech instead of a bus trip to Pitt.
“Tomorrow’s conferences are all built on convenience, because there will be no long-term commitments. The mercantile nature of college sports is shredding rivalries for the sake of shifting television rights and for college presidents not to be caught standing when the game of NCAA musical chairs comes to a stop.”
Othella Harrington, Georgetown center, 1992-96; current assistant coach: “It has been an honor and privilege just to have been part of those games. It’s a shame. I’m saddened that they won’t be playing each other on a yearly basis. Now, will they play each other down the line? That’s above my pay grade. No one wants to see great rivalries come to an end.”
Wilbon: “The end of this series, the end of Georgetown-Syracuse, the end of the Big East as we knew it is heinous. . . .
“College sports is important largely for a specific reason: tradition. You know, pro sports people come and go. College sports aren’t about the players. They’re about the coaches, the uniforms, the fans, the buildings they play in, the tournament, the rivalries — that’s what they’ve been selling. These schools and these conferences sold that. They sold it for 75 years and now they want to act like it doesn’t exist. Well, it doesn’t exist any more because they killed it.”
Tirico: “You hate to be the old guy in the corner in the barbershop and say, ‘Things were better when I was a kid,’ but they’re not going to find better in whatever conferences they go to — Catholic 7 or Syracuse in the ACC — they’re not going to find a better rivalry. The history, the legacy — takes 25 years to replace that, and we don’t have time for that in this watered down time of basketball. You may find more lucrative places to land as a conference. You may find better basketball-fits with other institutions. But I don’t think you’re going to find a better rivalry than Syracuse-Georgetown.”
Thompson: “When Syracuse said they were leaving the league, that was the thing that hit me in the stomach. None of the rest of it. ‘Et tu, Brute?’ That’s what I felt like. . . . When that happened, I just said, ‘Oh my God!’
“The thing that bothers me most is the lack of reaction by the fans. That bothers me more than anything. The fans should not have tolerated this. That’s the one time when I thought the Georgetown, the Villanova, the St. John’s, the Syracuse fans should have gotten together and said: ‘Hell no! This is not going to happen!’
Boeheim: “The Big East will be missed because it’s what we knew and what we grew up with and what made us. But it was time to move on. It’s just the way college athletics has evolved, really. The memories of Georgetown-Syracuse will last forever in people’s minds. People that have come to a Syracuse-Georgetown game will list that as one of the great events that they’ve ever been to.”
Thompson III: “Intercollegiate athletics is going through an evolution. . . . The whole intercollegiate athletics as we know it, conference to conference across the country, is going through a change. We can sit here and get nostalgic and say: ‘Oh, woe is me! Oh, the poor this-conference. Or you just brace yourself and prepare yourself for new and different clashes, rivalries, moments that are going to happen. That’s what we’re going through right now. We’ve got to move on. We move on.”
Tranghese: “I don’t know what’s going to happen. I guess there will be new rivalries. . . . But I hear distress in the voices of fans. I think they’re not happy with everything that’s going on. They look at it, they understand it’s all about money and, to a certain degree, greed. . . . No one is going to convince me that there’s a Syracuse fan out there that is happy that Georgetown-Syracuse is not going to happen in the same way. And the same with Georgetown.
“I don’t have the answers. I really don’t. But everyone may rue the day that this all happened. It may not end up being the best thing for college athletics.”
Liz Clarke, A.J. Chavar, Camille Powell, Barry Svrluga, Gene Wang and Jayne Orenstein conducted the interviews for this story.