Opinions, Column

Finding Ourselves by Finding a Rival

Back in the middle of the 20th century, Boston College was intense rivals with nearby Catholic college Holy Cross. This worked well—not only were the two schools within an hour of each other, but they were similarly competitive in football and basketball. There was so much hype around the annual football game that BC wins were celebrated with a school-wide dance. Eventually, though, the rivalry faded. When BC joined the Big East and Holy Cross became a Division I-AA competitor, the rivalry ended after 90 years. With it, college sports in New England took a step back. An oversaturation of professional teams combined with the loss of a significant rivalry meant that New England was never going to have the same enthusiasm for college sports as the South and Midwest. Since then, I feel like BC athletics has become aimless—a binary star that has lost its companion, unable to make the waves it once did. To fill this void, I have offered here candidates to become our new villain.

Boston University

One could immediately contest my claim that BC doesn’t have a true rival. Obviously, common logic would suggest we are rivals with BU, a university literally right down the road. That proximity means that fans show up to home and away games alike, and beating BU means more than beating just about any other team. The issue, however, is that we only really play BU in hockey and soccer. They don’t have a football team, and we haven’t played their men’s basketball team since 2011. BU will definitely remain our hockey rivals, as the Battle of Comm. Ave. is one of the most exciting athletic events at BC, but we should look elsewhere to find a more well-rounded general rival. 

Virginia Tech

During the mid 2000s, the rivalry between Virginia Tech and Boston College defined ACC football, arguably peaking with the 2007 two-game series between the Matt Ryan–led Eagles and the Sean Glennon–led Hokies. If anyone is our rival in football, it’s definitely VT. We’ve played them at least once a year since 1993, with one exception of 2004. It seems, however, like this once great rivalry could be falling by the wayside. Under the new ACC schedule, we will only play them twice over the next four years. Our matchup in basketball never seemed to matter much to either team, so it seems like the BC-VTech matchup may become another dormant BC rivalry to join the ranks of Holy Cross. Hopefully the new athletic director can find a way to keep the energy around this game despite the more infrequent appearances.


Similar to Virginia Tech, this used to be a strong rivalry in the 2000s, but after the winner of the game started being awarded the O’Rourke–McFadden Trophy, the results started to be one sided. Although there have been some close games, like BC’s 34–28 loss on Halloween in 2020 and the 19–13 game lost on a fumbled snap last year, Clemson has won every annual meetup since 2011. Though there is definitely passion felt by BC here, it’s hard to call this a rivalry when one team clearly outshines the other. And in basketball, although the two teams are in the same conference and are fairly competitive with each other, the geographical distance and cultural differences between the schools keep this from becoming a true rivalry.


This is included as a joke. UMass should not be considered one of BC’s rivals.

Notre Dame

Notre Dame is the first candidate with a compelling resume for all sports, rather than just football. Both schools are Catholic, which means a lot of students applied to both schools, which creates feelings of either superiority or resentment (e.g. “I chose to go to this Catholic school over that, lesser Catholic school” or “This Catholic school didn’t accept my application, so I don’t like them”). It also means that our rivalry is called the Holy War, which is a lot of fun. Although Notre Dame generally outperforms BC in football, both teams are competitive enough in all other sports such that any given game could be won by either team. Even though Notre Dame competes as an independent in football and in the Big Ten in ice hockey, it is a member of the ACC for every other sport, which means the two teams play each other quite a bit. Despite being in different hockey conferences, the “Holy War on Ice” is still an annual(ish) occurrence, and the two teams meet on turf roughly every other year. The only thing that could make this rivalry better is if Notre Dame becomes a full member of the ACC, but with all the conference realignments that occurred over the summer, it seems like the opposite may become true.


The third team that BC will play annually under the new ACC schedule is Syracuse, and let me be the first (probably) to say that I am thrilled. They’re the closest ACC team to us geographically, which means crowds at BC–Syracuse games are going to have lots of fans supporting both teams. We’ve played Syracuse in football more than any other FBS team, and the matchups have been regularly back and forth: over the past ten games the overall record is 5–5. In basketball, the matchups have favored Syracuse a bit more than BC, but with the progress Earl Grant is making in revitalizing the team, their lead won’t stand for long. In lacrosse, one of BC’s most important sports, the Syracuse–BC game is one of the most consequential matches of the year. When we won the National Championship in 2021, we did so by beating Syracuse in the finals after losing to them twice earlier in the season. The rivalry is only negatively impacted by hockey, where we don’t play them because they compete in the ACHA rather than the NCAA.

Verdict: BC’s rivals should include BU for Hockey and Notre Dame and Syracuse for everything other than hockey. If BC Athletics puts care into hyping up these games and—especially in the case of Notre Dame—ensuring that matchups occur on a regular basis, then these rivalries have the potential to grow in strength and would increase the popularity of Boston College athletics as a whole.

October 30, 2022