Lost amid all the postgame hoopla and drowned out by the splashing sound of so many Cincinnati tears is the pregame concern that the Crosstown Shootout just isn’t the game it used to be. Scheduling this year figured to be an issue, with college football having a bunch of games that contribute nothing to the national championship picture the same day. (Sidenote: Adding whimpering OSU fans to raging UC ones has made social media almost unbearable). A local publication even had the temerity to post that the Shootout wasn’t even the marquee event of the weekend anymore. The bloom must truly be off the rose.
Of course, it only took an angry little elf with all the self-control of hungry toddler to change all that. When Saint Mick pitched all his toys out of the pram and tried to attack Xavier’s master of the dark arts, JP Macura, he ensured that the Shootout would retain its rightful place atop the news cycle. Far from being overshadowed, the game became the perfect foil for a relatively uninspiring slate of football. All that served to mask one undeniable truth: some of the Shootout deniers have a point.
Before you all blow up our Twitter more than it already is, and my phone has been burning through the battery about every four hours, let me explain. Rivalries generally involve an outcome that is deeply in doubt from year to year, games that are close, and fanbases that at least ostensibly revile each other. While the Shootout has that third one at levels that the posers down in North Carolina can only dream of, it’s beginning to lack the first two.
For simplicity’s sake we’ll assume modern era Shootout began in 1982. That is both the year Banners began having a staff and a decent jumping off point for college basketball that most of the people reading this can remember. From that point forward to 2007, the Shootout tilted Xavier’s way by a count of 14-12. That’s almost literally as close as can be. Xavier held the thinnest possible margin in a game that had take extra periods to decide three times in that span.
Since then, though, things have changed. Xavier has won eight of the last 11 Shootouts and done it by an average margin of 10.125 points. Only once has it taken overtime, only once in Xavier’s last five wins has the margin been by single digits. Included in those recent hidings are 23 and 17 point wins. In short, Xavier has stamped its authority all over this game in the last decade plus. This is, of course, far from an argument that this isn’t still a great rivalry game. It takes more than a decade of dominance to completely change the narrative. Xavier may have the upper hand now, but its a bit foolhardy to assume that this will continue ad infinitum.
On the other hand, the dynamic has unquestionably changed. Back in 1982, Xavier was the upstart mid-major that didn’t just want this game on the books, it needed a win to demonstrate it could punch with the big boys and merit an at large look. In 2017, that’s not the case. Xavier is an established power in either the second or third best conference in the nation. It’s the Musketeers who own the far better recent tournament resume, the better home court, the better coach, and the swagger that comes with being elite. UC, meanwhile, is now playing in a conference ranked one spot above the Mountain West, playing home games in Kentucky, and losing out on recruiting battles for players like JP Macura.
So no, the Shootout isn’t just some pre-football hors d’oeuvres, served up solely out of obligation. It is, clearly, the most vitriolic rivalry in college sports. It is, however, also not what it used to be. What used to be a evenly matched clash of programs separated by a 5k course has instead tilted towards become Xavier’s flat track. Things may change again someday, but in the time that most Twitter warriors can remember, everything is coming up Musketeers.