Syracuse held its footing on the snow-encrusted field at Yankee Stadium well enough to throttle an old rival in the Pinstripe Bowl and to be the latest to make a bold, swift exit from Big East football.
It was the last game for the Orange as a Big East representative, and it said a resounding farewell by beating a recent Big East refugee, West Virginia, 38-14, Saturday in the third edition of the bowl game conducted by the Yankees in the Bronx.
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The winning team's defense was possibly even more impressive than the offense because it contained and frustrated West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith -- an early season contender for the Heisman Trophy -- and scored two safeties. The Orange tackled Smith in the end zone for one, and forced him into an intentional grounding call in the end zone for another.
Aside from being a parting gift to Syracuse fans on its way out the Big East's door, it was a cautionary tale. West Virginia is learning what the likes of Miami and Boston College found out, that leaving the Big East means diving into choppy waters. The Mountaineers were not among the contenders in the Big 12 this season and were overmatched at the Stadium Saturday.
About as rare as seeing a bowl game played amid thick, swirling snowflakes is the presence of two familiar rivals facing each other.
Bowl games are generally warm weather or indoor events, and interregional affairs, bringing together opponents from different corners of the college football world. That was the intention of the Pinstripe Bowl, too, with an agreement to match teams from the Big East and Big 12. It was inevitable, though, that the nationwide conference musical chairs would align a team that recently left the Big East and another that is on its way out the door.
So West Virginia, once a Big East power and now an also-ran in the Big 12, had a reunion with Syracuse, which was playing its final football game as a Big East representative (on its way to the ACC).
"There's a changing landscape in college athletics, that as we all know has been driven by college football. We have over the years had a lot of rivalries fall off the map," West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck said, referring to former series against Penn State, Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh. "Life changes, life goes on. As we lose old rivals, we will pick up new rivals. It's part of the change that we see take place in intercollegiate athletics."
His Syracuse counterpart Daryl Gross said: "Some of these changes have brought regions closer together. I think it's a new world out there, I think it's a positive thing from our perspective. You can see it already work as our longtime rival, West Virginia. We both are changing and we're playing right away. We look forward to it. Things change in life and we understand that. There are going to be challenges. We think this is going to be a great opportunity for our institution."
What this means for the Pinstripe Bowl is up in the air. The game's contract with the Big East (whatever might be left of it) and Big 12 expires after next season, and the Yankees officials who run the game will have to decide what to do. The game relies on having a team with New York ties -- Syracuse has been in it twice, Rutgers once -- but how can it be assured of that when the Big East has little or no New York flavor?
"The answer is, we don't know," Levine said. "Things change. The Big East and Big 12 have been sensational and we are very loyal partners -- very loyal partners. We'll have to visit it a year from now and see what happens. It's very important for us to have geographically located schools. At the end of the day, when we commit to partners, we commit to partners, so everybody is going to get the benefit of the doubt as we move forward."
What is certain is that the organization that presented the winner with the George Steinbrenner Trophy is committed to keeping the Pinstripe Bowl alive. It is a tribute to the late Yankees owner, who played college football at Williams and coached at Northwestern and Purdue and was devoted to the sport.
"Maybe if you shot him with sodium pentothal," Levine said, "he might have [said he] even liked it a little more than baseball."