clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

NCAA Basketball Big 4 Rivalries

New, 15 comments
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Big 4 label aside The State University of New York at Buffalo is never going to be seen as "one of the guys" in Western New York Hoops.

From 1946 to 1958 the Western New York "Little Three Conference" was a sanctioned body by the NCAA which as it's name implied had just three small members. All three schools in the former conference are Roman Catholic institutions located in Western New York. You know them as Canisius, Niagara, and Saint Bonaventure.

What's ironic is that for most of the Little 3's history, which in football goes back to the 1920's, UB was a small private school who never caught on with the trio. Not being a Catholic institution kept any real chemistry from developing.

In 1979 Saint Bonaventure helped start up the A10 while in 1989 Niagara and Canisius joined the Metro Atlantic Conference, where they were and are still significant geographic outliers.

In the 90's UB was driving hard to Division One athletics and the State University joined with the existing three school, forging the "Big 4". It was fun for the media of the day but most of the existing L3 fan bases looked down on the Bulls and the school as being inferior.

Buffalo reporting legend and Canisius Alumni Larry Felser pitched a fit when UB got their first Big4 win at the expense of his Alma Mater back in 1994. At the time UB was a small Athletics department trying to find their feet in division one. But the tables have, for the most part turned.

Since 1979 the Griffs hold an 14-11 edge but since 2004 the Bulls hold an 8-2 advantage. Niagara won the first 7 games since 1979 but are now at a 15-11 disadvantage against UB.

UB is a better program than Canisius and Niagara and are trying to find parity with Saint Bonaventure, though the Bonnies hold an all time 7-2 advantage over UB.

The only argument Purple Eagles fans put out there for their superiority is the fact UB has never been to the NCAA tournament. UB has never been to the dance but neither has Northwestern of the Big10. Sometimes when you play in a better conference you sacrifice easier trips to the NCAA tournament for that higher profile.

I'm pretty sure Northwestern in the MAC would have danced several times over the past few years just as I am pretty sure UB would have danced quite a few times in the MAAC.

But the Big 4 / Little 3 is not been about parity, it's about a hatred that started during a different era of college athletics. So despite the fact UB has been beating the Niagara and Canisius like a drum in recent years I still hate them.

How much do I hate them? here is my "Big 4" hatred in order from least to greatest:

1 - Saint Bonaventure - The Bonnies have smug, arrogant, and rude fans. If one wants to be completely fair they have to acknowledge that the Bonaventure faithful have the most reason among the "Big 4" to be smug. They play in the best hoops conference among "Big 4" members and in general are the best of the four teams.

So I'll suffer fans from Saint Bonaventure because at least they have to be happy about.

2 - Canisius - This one goes out to my Grandfather, God rest his soul. That's right kids your humble Bull Run manager is 25% Canisius Alumnus.

Putting aside familial connections I think the Griffs fan base is more level headed than fellow MAAC member Niagara (We'll get to them). Fans at the other school on Main Street seem to realize that they are not in a great place for hoops and are rapidly falling behind The Bonnies and Bulls.

The ability Canisius fans have to look at themselves honestly without disproportional or irrational anger, is exactly what a fan base needs if they are to motivate healthy change within their department.

3 - Niagara - The Purps have fans who are as unbearable as folks from Saint Bonaventure and yet their program more in worse shape than Canisius. They thump their chest for a decent reputation in the MAAC and their 2007, and other, trips to the NCAA tournament. Put aside the fact that UB throttled them in out of conference play that year they think they are the best team in the Erie / Niagara country area.