Today, the Georgetown Hoyas won their first game of the Big East Tournament — the last Big East Tournament as we know it.
I went to dozens of basketball games when I was a Hoya, cheering on my boys in blue and grey through wins and losses (during my years there, we didn’t win much), and then hanging out with those same players on campus, in cafeterias, and in class. We invested our hearts and souls into every game the Hoyas played, but no game was bigger than when we played Syracuse.
The scene at the first Georgetown-Syracuse game I attended at the Verizon Center was frantic. I had bought tickets with five of my friends in the raucous student zone; the floor was actually shaking from the pounding and cheering, and I could barely hear my friends sitting next to me because of the deafening roar every time we scored a basket.
My friends had somehow smuggled an entire bag of oranges into the game, and I was carrying a hand-held citrus juicer in my backpack. At various moments of the game, whenever the Hoyas did something particularly exciting, we would take out an orange and juice it directly into our mouths.
Immature and ridiculous, perhaps, but such was the nature of our fandom. Such was the nature of the Georgetown-Syracuse rivalry.
The Hoyas won the game. We drank a lot of freshly-squeezed orange juice.
After this season, the Georgetown-Syracuse rivalry no longer exists. Because of the greediness of the people who run college athletics and the huge power of college football, the Big East conference is being torn apart.
The loss of the rivalry will be hard for both schools, and will be a detriment to college basketball, but it will also be something even worse: it will be a loss of history. This wasn’t just a sports rivalry, but something ingrained into the character of each school.
In an oral history about the rivalry, ESPN broadcaster Mike Tirico summed it up well:
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.
College loyalties are built over time, and they don’t die easily. I’ll never be able to cheer for Syracuse, and will continue to cheer against them, vociferously.
It won’t be the same.
It won’t be the same because it’s hard to vilify someone that isn’t your actual enemy anymore. It won’t be the same because instead of battling for conference supremacy, Georgetown and Syracuse will just be two schools, in their own conferences, trying to make a run deep into March.
It won’t be the same because even if we squeeze oranges when we play Syracuse, the orange juice won’t taste as good.