Overlooked amongst the aircraft carriers, camouflage unis and overseas air base battles was a humble matchup between two ancient mid-majors with little marquee value. The Army, Navy and Air Force academies play for the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy every year, to a moderate amount of fanfare. For Virginia Military Institute and The Citadel, this year’s All-Military Classic contained one of the most meaningful games — outside of league tournament appearances — that they’ll play all year.
They pretty much battle for the championship of each other, because they are the only two DI military colleges in the nation not directly affiliated with a branch of the U.S. military.
Novelist Pat Conroy played point guard for The Citadel in the 1960s, when both schools were in the Southern Conference (VMI is now in the Big South), and he lovingly described the bitter rivalry between the two schools in his memoir My Losing Season.
The jocks of VMI had to endure the great scorn of their corps the same as we did. Jocks are second-class citizens in every military college in this country and in a secret, wordless accordance we acknowledged our aggrieved station in the chain of command by playing our best games against each other for the honor of our schools. Their Rat Line met our Fourth Class system head-on, and we paid homage to each other by raising the level of our games to the highest pitch.
I’ve been to a game at VMI, and it seemed to me that the internal scorn for athletes has diminished these days. I can definitely attest that these guys have a special bond built into their rivalry.
The Citadel won this year’s matchup 84-76. Last year, the two schools combined for more than 200 points. In a way, that doesn’t even matter. The fact that this game continues to be played whenever possible, and that these two schools set foot on the same court to test each other’s mettle again and again is something comforting. Something to be honored.
It’s a tall order in these days of constant realignment, but may this special rivalry never end.
Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor. He tweets @stfhoops.