Last July, they canceled out of a home-and-home deal with Virginia Tech that left a gap in their schedule for 2010. Whether they bummed out on their deal with the Hokies to aim for a different matchup or just to get a difficult opponent off their schedule, it's impossible to be sure. But at the Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician blog, their prediction of "well know who's filling those spots sooner rather than later" ended up being incorrect.
Syracuse waited. And waited. And waited. And nothing materialized from other FBS schools - either Syracuse didn't want a multi-game deal with any of these teams, or they just didn't want a bad FBS school on the docket that wouldn't generate any excitement.
Nine months later, it took some interesting maneuvering not from Syracuse, but their ancient nearby football rival 40 miles to the east to save Syracuse's schedule - and secure a fantastic opportunity for the Raiders in 2010. No word if Syracuse players were hugging each other like in this photo, but I bet some Colgate folks were. (more)
I had heard some hot rumors a few weeks ago that Colgate was making some motions towards becoming Syracuse's 12th game in 2010. At first I shrugged it off - why would the Orange want to play Colgate, a Patriot League school that historically has not a counter for bowl purposes?
Patriot League schools have played FBS schools in the past. Both Colgate and Lehigh have played Buffalo of the MAC, Lehigh, Lafayette and Holy Cross have played Army within recent memory, and Lehigh played UConn when they had a schedule need on their ascent to BCS-level football with the Big East.
But recently those games have largely dried up. In the past, FBS teams could count one win over an FCS opponent every two years towards bowl eligibility, but in 2005 the rules changed. Now teams could count one game a year vs. an FCS school towards that elusive bowl eligibility, but that Championship Subdivision school had to average 57 scholarships per year over a rolling period to qualify.
This immediately took the Patriot League off many rolodexes of FBS teams. Why schedule Bucknell or Georgetown and gain nothing, when you can schedule Indiana State or Southeast Missouri State and possibly still qualify for a bowl?
But in this case of Syracuse in 2010, it was different. Syracuse had tried hard to get an FBS opponent for that spot, but days passed and one day they found they were the only FBS school in the country without a 12th game. Syracuse already had an FCS "bowl-counter" game on the schedule - they play Maine September 18th - so the Orange needed a game. Any Division I game would do.
Bucknell was approached for a possible game, but they didn't want it. On the other hand Colgate, Syracuse's ancient rivals in so many sports, was very interested. Not only for purposes of rivalry - Hamilton is a scant 40 miles away from the Carrier Dome, meaning it's a day trip for Raider fans and no big expenses to pay for travel and lodging. In addition, Colgate recently got above 57 equivalancies, so they are a bowl counter now for future FBS matchups, so Syracuse will be playing what will be considered a challenging FCS opponent.
But how to make it happen? The Raiders would have to get out of their commitment on September 25th, a game versus Dartmouth, and the Big Green would have to find another opponent.
Enter.... Bucknell, who was looking for an 11th game to fill their schedule and had an open date.
Syracuse head football coach Bob Marrone is excited:
“I’m excited about playing them,” he said, “and I’m excited about the rivalry that a lot of people will be able to remember.”And Colgate head football coach Dick Biddle is, um, excited:
"It's quite an opportunity for us," Raiders coach Dick Biddle told The Post-Standard newspaper on Wednesday. "Obviously, we'll have our hands full."*****
A boatload of credit has to be given to the Colgate athletic department to bring this together, and to come up with a solution for all the parties involved to everyone's benefit. It's rare that you can change the schedules of four teams and have everyone come up relieved or ecstatic, and athletic director David Roach seems to have pulled it off with bells on.
Dartmouth historically has played Colgate, but appears to be happy to play a different opponent for a slight change to start their season, according to the Big Green Alert's interview of Dartmouth head football coach Buddy Teevens:
“It's a nice opportunity for us to see a different team in a different environment. We just announced it to our team and the guys are excited about it.Bucknell is thrilled for many reasons. First, that they have eleven Division I games (when there was a real risk they would have to go with a 10-game schedule). Second, they now have six home games. And third, they play three members of the Ivy:League this year: Cornell, Penn and now Dartmouth. That gives new Bison head coach Joe Susan some extra excitement in his first year at Bucknell, and it will definitely help.
"Now we have to do a little bit of preparation. We don't know much about them and they have a new coach down there. So we have to kind of go to school on what, when, and how they are doing things. But we do crossover with Bucknell occasionally with recruiting, so they will know some of our guys, and we will know some of theirs.”
Syracuse is relieved they have finally have their 12th game. As for Colgate, their schedule will be unusual in that they will only have four home games, but that doesn't seem to damped the enthusiasm much. You can feel the energy coming from Colgate fans that this game is going to be special.
For Syracuse and Colgate, they will play each other for the 66th time on the gridiron. Reading about their rivalry from the Syracuse archives, it will remind you of a sort of kinder, gentler version of the one, the only, college football rivalry we all know and love:
For students in the early 20th century, this weekend meant bonfires, school dances, wild parties, raids on the opposing team's campus, and a football game that was arguably the most anticipated of the season. It was known that any Syracuse student caught at Colgate trying to light their annual bonfire, or otherwise sabotage their chances of winning was apprehended and their hair was shaved into a "C". The same thing took place at Syracuse where unlucky Colgate students often returned to their campus with an "S' where their full head of hair used to be.
The best part of their rivalry?
In 1907 when Syracuse's Archbold Stadium opened, a legend began, seemingly fortified by the 13-year losing streak that took place from 1925 to 1937. Legend has it that while the stadium was being constructed, a Colgate student snuck into the site and placed a varsity Maroon "C" sweater somewhere within the drying cement. This sweater gave way to the legend of the HOODOO. The word, a corruption of the word "voodoo", was used as a chant to psych out the Syracuse team and fans. Eventually Syracuse retorted with the chant "We Do" to diminish the effects of the so-called "Hoodoo", the invisible player that prevented Syracuse from winning and on some occasions kept them from scoring at all.
So.... cute, compared to the Rivalry banter between Lehigh and Lafayette fans, which rapidly goes to the R rating and sometimes even into the X rating during the last game of the football regular season.
Seriously, though, when Syracuse and Colgate discontinued their yearly football rivalry in 1961, the games had gotten out of hand. While Syracuse was becoming a football powerhouse with players like RB Jim Brown and RB Ernie Davis the Orange had won eleven straight games and concluded the yearly edition of their series by trouncing the Red Raiders 51-8. There were a few other matchups on the gridiron since then, but they all ended up as lopsided victories for the Orange. In the early 1960, like Boston College and Holy Cross twenty years later, Syracuse was clearly headed down the path of big-money athletics, while Colgate wanted to distance themselves from it.
But in 2010, this isn't the issue anymore. There's no worry that Colgate is a target of Big 10 expansion (unlike Syracuse). While this game will add another intriguing chapter in their rivalry, in the long run it could be more mean for the future of the Patriot League in terms of football scholarships.
Financialy, Colgate will be getting a guarantee for playing Syracuse, rumored to be somewhere in the $200,000 to $400,000 range. It doesn't pay for everything in regards to a football program, but it can go a long way towards some nice infrastructure - or help balance the books.
More than the money, though, you can feel the excitement among Patriot League watchers. It's a big-time game, no matter how it came about. It will be special when it happens. (Coach Biddle agreed in this interview: “I don’t look at it as a payday,” he said. “I look at it as an opportunity. It’s a stretch game, but it should be fun. It should be enjoyable. It’s a heck of a challenge. It’s kind of a reward for our success. There is not one negative thing about it.”)
It's undeniable that Patriot League fans have been looking for the energy of this type of matchup for a long time. When Lehigh and Colgate beat Buffalo of the MAC in the early noughties, it brought an excitement to both programs. (I didn't go to Buffalo, but I did drive two hours on a Thursday to watch the game on WFMZ.) More recently, we've seen the Delaware's and New Hampshire's experience the excitement of playing FBS teams - big-time ones.
If the Patriot League had the full allotment of football scholarships, there would be even more opportunities for these types of matchups in the future, provided they offer the 57 scholarship limit over a rolling period.
It's important to remember that this year's game is a rare case, where Syracuse needed a second game to ensure they had 12 games, and they didn't need a counter. In order to have more games like this in the future, Patriot League teams would almost certainly have to commit to that 57 scholarship limit - and commit to allowing some form of merit-based aid in football to get there.
It will be interesting if this game is an interesting one-time "moon is in the seventh house" sort of occurrence - or something that can happen much more often.