Why Syracuse v. Georgetown was such an imperfect non-ending

By Matt Norlander | College Basketball Writer

Syracuse and Georgetown have reached an uncomfortable but accepted halt in their rivalry. (Getty Images)

NEW YORK -- I guess it ended pretty tidily for Georgetown and Syracuse fans.

1) I say "ended" because, as it stands, this rivalry is over. At least for now. More on that in a minute.

2) The reasons for the tidy: both bases and teams can walk away from the 2012-13 Big East season with pride and bragging points within the final context of this rivalry. Georgetown finished atop the league and swept Syracuse in the final regular season that these schools will share under the same roof. But it was Syracuse that got the 58-55 overtime win over the hated Hoyas to earn a right for a spot in the championship game against Louisville. I think it's great how both groups can head off feeling superior about this final Big East season, NCAA tournament fates TBD.

The weight of championship games often cause one team to wilt. If that happens between Syracuse and Louisville, so be it. At least one semifinal offered up what has to be, from a historic standpoint, one of the 20 best games in the history of this tournament.

But where do we go from here? Is college basketball about to actually see another one of its most important rivalries slink off into hiatus the way that others have, and will, in the years to come? Right now, the answer is yes.

"It's a shame they're heading down to Tobacco Road for a few dollars more," John Thompson III said afterward. "It's a shame that we are no longer going to have the same type of relationship."

It's a stubborn shame.

There's a bitterness and a sense of incomplete here. And nobody seems ready to concoct the easy solution: buck up and schedule each other and make that promise immediately. If it's important, these schools will do it. This shouldn't be an obituary on Syracuse-Georgetown, and I refuse to make it that.

But in talking to a handful of fans on both side of the rivalry on Thursday and Friday, there's an acceptance of an oncoming chill for these two schools. Almost as if the divorce is too much and some sort of time away is needed. Syracuse and Georgetown fans have long maintained their rivalry has had a differentiation to it that caused many outsiders not to understand it in full. It doesn't get much tougher to understand a rivalry than when you see the programs and their fans begin to accept the consequences of this sort of realignment.

There hasn't really been a fight yet to keep Syracuse-Georgetown going. There's a craving, but not a hunger. Maybe that comes with time. Right now, this is a clash without closure. There's a healthy -- what can we call it -- enmity, I guess, that's there. It connects and separates the programs. Respect overrides that, as it should, but now pride seems to be getting in the way. And so does the bureaucratic protocol that has served as a backdrop to the money-seeking reconnaissance that basketball programs and coaches have used as the cover-all for the wreckage that has come to so many leagues.

John Thompson III will forge new rivalries in the refurbished Big East. (Getty Images)

Reality is, we don't know when these programs will play again. Both coaches say they're open to continuing the series. Yet when given the opportunity to clarify a timeline or reason of expectation, Jim Boeheim wouldn't offer up many details on Friday night. It means so much to him; the man cited his 7-7 record against Georgetown in the Big East tournament (he got even!). That's what this win got him. It was borderline essential. And when it was over, he was speaking in past-tense tones on Hoyas-Orange.

"I think it would be a little hard to get that done," Boeheim said when I asked if he had a plan to schedule Georgetown in the foreseeable future, to give fans a timeline of expectation. "We're gonna try. ... We'll see. They've got obligations; we've got obligations. We're definitely playing St. John's next year, we're definitely playing Maui, definitely playing the ACC-Big Ten Shootout. So we'll see how it all works out down the road."

He has said as much before. Boeheim seemed sincere yet tired of discussing the rivalry. He has talked so much about the demise of it in the past two years, you wonder if he's not just ready for a break.

"I don't have all that much time to reminisce," he said.

It's very possible that man has coached his last game, ever, against Georgetown. If that's the case, he seems at peace with it. Good for him, but it's a shame.

If the series means so much, you vie to keep it going, right? There has been intentional vaguishness by both coaches. Why? This has been a long time coming. And here's the concerning thing. Georgetown and Maryland are still in the midst of a cold war despite longtime pleas from both sides of the fan base to reconcile and get on with things. Will Syracuse-Georgetown be heading that same way? If Boeheim isn't outwardly motivated enough to promise a continuation, will the man who ultimately replaces him have that?

There was something interesting that happened once the game went final Friday night. John Thompson Jr. waited for his longtime friend and rival to cycle through the handshake line. Once he did, he got Boeheim's attention. Thompson was playfully blowing him kisses, a reference to his recent "KISS SYRACUSE GOODBYE" declaration after Georgetown's season-finale home win over the Orange last week. Boeheim cracked a smile, bent over, laughed and acknowledged his former foil.

Then the men turned away from each other. Boeheim's face curled into its natural, frowny frame.

"I don't like what he said after [the Syracuse loss at Georgetown]," Boeheim said of Thompson. "It wasn't good. But that's John. He's gonna say something. That's the way he is."

Some of the reporters thought this was playful banter. But it wasn't. There's that chill that's still there. And Boeheim's irked by the actions of the man who long ago was able to walk away from the game -- yet still remains a huge part of Georgetown's program.

"No, he wasn't kidding," Boeheim said of Thompson's taunt. "I like John, but you can like somebody and not like what they say sometimes. I just didn't like what he said. I didn't think it was good, you know? That's just my opinion."

An uncomfortable silence fell over Boeheim and the cluster of reporters around him. Then we dispersed. This all still feels wrong. This kind of disapproval (Boeheim and JT Jr.) would ordinarily be good fire for a rivalry, one that was kept in cycle by the demands of a conference agreement. But now that Syracuse and Georgetown have been freed from their bindings, we're about to see how relevant the arrangement has become.

In some ways, Friday night felt like rites and proof for a renewal. In other ways, it has brought an awkward halt that portrays some of the most depressing aspects of college sports. When and how and why did respectfully disliking another program have to become so complicated?


For more college basketball news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnCBB on Twitter, like us on Facebook and subscribe to the thrice-a-week podcast on iTunes. You can follow Matt Norlander on Twitter here: @MattNorlander.

 
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