Published September 13, 2013
Six months ago in Madison Square Garden, it was a sad sort of pandemonium, the end of a fierce 34-year Big East rivalry that had become one of the most storied in all of college sports. Die-hard Syracuse and Georgetown basketball fans dropped $300 for nosebleed seats. Legendary Hoyas alum Patrick Ewing squeezed into a seat on the baseline, and legendary Orange alum Derrick Coleman stood and pumped his fist near the Syracuse bench.
And it was a game befitting all the hype and the history, with Georgetown battling back from 11 down to send it into overtime on two free throws with 7 seconds left, then Syracuse squeaking out a 58-55 victory to propel it to the Big East championship game and eventually to the Final Four.
Then the rivalry was over, another casualty of the football- and money-driven conference realignment of recent years. Syracuse-Georgetown was going the way of Texas-Texas A&M, and Nebraska-Oklahoma, and Notre Dame-Michigan, and Pitt-Penn State, and Missouri-Kansas: a longstanding relationship of shared respect and mutual hatred euthanized despite fan protests at both schools. Syracuse was heading to the ACC. Georgetown was heading to the newly reconstituted Big East. It was two schools succumbing to the emotionless reality of today's big-money amateur sports.
Georgetown coach John Thompson III sat at a podium at Madison Square Garden late that night and gave a bitter epitaph for the death of another great collegiate rivalry.
"It's a shame they're heading down to Tobacco Road for a few dollars more," Thompson said of Syracuse's move to the conference of Duke and North Carolina. "This is a rivalry that meant a lot to our program and to their program and to this conference. ... It's a shame that we are no longer going to have the same type of relationship."
But now, thankfully, we have rumblings of resurrection.
The Syracuse Post-Standard reported this week that Georgetown and Syracuse are in discussions about a 10-year contract to renew their series in non-conference play. Statements from both schools indicated there's still work to be done on the contracts but also implied that in spirit this deal is as good as done.
"This is a series that will happen," Thompson said. "The Georgetown-Syracuse rivalry is one of the great rivalries in college basketball and it will continue. In many ways, we are in uncharted waters. We have a re-launched conference, a new commissioner and a new television partner with FOX Sports. As soon as we get a grasp on what our future mandated out-of-conference obligations will be and those time frames, the details with Syracuse will be finalized."
The resurrection of this rivalry now feels as inevitable as the rivalry's destruction did during last college basketball season, when years of realignment in college sports finally led to the implosion of the old, unstable Big East and to football schools scurrying elsewhere.
I've talked with any number of college basketball coaches about realignment. Their reaction always seems to be the same: a sense of anger and resignation that their sport has to ride along in a bus driven by a sport that brings in more revenue: Football. And a plea that the NCAA -- or whatever power structure is in charge of college sports if the NCAA unravels down the road -- put a commissioner in charge of looking out for the interests of basketball.
But the news that Georgetown-Syracuse could be renewed is a piece of good news for college basketball coaches and fans everywhere. This is similar to last season, when seven old Big East schools banded together, added three other basketball-focused schools and formed the new Big East: It's basketball powers flexing their muscle. Yes, football is the bus driver and always will be. But basketball can take the bull by its horns in the areas where it matters most. The new Big East conference concentrates on basketball first, and the formation of the league is the first good piece of realignment news in the sport in years. The ACC is the first of the big six conferences to bet on basketball, adding basketball powerhouses like Syracuse, Pitt, Notre Dame and Louisville that are impressive in football as well.
And the proposed renewal of the Georgetown-Syracuse rivalry shows that, when it comes to basketball, big-time rivalries can equal big-time revenue as well. When it has a commodity that's worth it, basketball can compete with football in the money game.
"Georgetown has enjoyed being part of one of the most storied rivalries in the history of college basketball in our series with Syracuse," Georgetown athletic director Lee Reed said. "Georgetown has been, and is very, interested in seeing a series with Syracuse become a reality."
If this series does become a reality, college basketball fans will have a bit easier time swallowing with the football-driven reality of today's college sports.
Follow Reid Forgrave on Twitter @reidforgrave or email him at ReidForgrave@gmail.com.