Niagara-Canisius hard to pin down as history of rivalry is in the eye of the beholder - The Buffalo News
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Niagara-Canisius hard to pin down as history of rivalry is in the eye of the beholder

Billy Baron and the Canisius College basketball team got the better of Antoine Mason and Niagara when the sides met Jan. 22 in Buffalo.

If Mason can lift the Purple Eagles to a home-court victory in the rematch Friday night, it could inch Niagara closer to its 100th all-time victory against its archrival.

Or has that milestone already been reached?

It turns out no one is quite sure.

Western New York’s oldest and best college basketball rivalry dates back more than a century, and for that reason, keeping an accurate record of its entire history proves difficult.

Before the first clash of the season – which Canisius won, 87-74, in the Koessler Center – the host Golden Griffins announced that it was the 173rd all-time meeting between the schools, with Niagara ahead, 96-76.

Meanwhile, however, the Purple Eagles believed that they had a 100-74 lead in the series.

Spokesmen for both schools said they were aware of the discrepancy when asked about it in January. An analysis of both schools’ all-time results shows a long, hard-fought and occasionally humorous history, with most of the conflicting reports coming from games that took place between 70 and 110 years ago.

Take the Canisius-Niagara matchup of Feb. 28, 1938, for example, which both schools, according to their history books, believe they lost.

On two other instances, in March 1920 and February 1923, both official ledgers have a victory marked down.

There are a number of games where the schools report different scores, though generally not large enough margins to cause concern. More worrisome are the instances where one school reports that a game took place and the other school does not.

Records from long ago come from various athletic programs, official school publications such as newspapers and yearbooks, or any other source the schools have at their disposal.

Discrepancies could have come anywhere along the line, from dreary-eyed graduate assistants hitting the wrong buttons on the computer to school yearbook staffs 100 years ago reporting inaccurate results.

Here is what we know:

There is only one game since 1940 that Canisius and Niagara don’t agree on, and it’s a difference of two points.

In 133 games since then, Niagara has won 74, Canisius 59.

Between 1930 and 1940, there is one score discrepancy that can be overlooked for the purposes of this analysis – the 1938 game both schools think they lost, which a review of Buffalo Evening News archives reveals was a 41-35 Canisius loss, not a 48-33 Purple and White loss like Niagara believed. And there is one date discrepancy that Niagara had correct, revealed by an article about the game appearing in Canisius’ student newspaper, The Griffin, a month before Canisius’ records believed that the game took place.

Over that time period, Niagara was 10-7.

A review of The News’ archives settled two more debates in the 1922-23 season, where Canisius believed that it won in February and lost in March while Niagara only had the February game listed, and had it as a victory.

The News reported that the February contest went to Canisius, 34-16, and the March contest that Niagara didn’t know about was actually a 28-20 victory for the team from Monteagle Ridge in Lewiston.

The archives, however, were not able to settle a debate from a few years earlier, as both teams believe that they won (by different scores) on March 14, 1920. A review of the following week’s newspapers did not find mention of the game.

This contest was also odd in that the supposed date was far later in the year than Canisius and Niagara had ever played (and would still be the latest in the year they have played). Between 1915 and 1930, the record in games that are agreed upon or confirmed was Niagara with eight victories and Canisius with five.

Games before 1915 get difficult. The programs were in their infancies, and source material is harder to come by.

Canisius archivist Kathleen DeLaney said it’s even possible that some of the early records could be confused with the Canisius and Niagara prep schools. “Baseball was the sport of the day,” she notes.

According to Canisius records, the first game against Niagara took place Dec. 1, 1904, and resulted in a 2-0 forfeit victory. But the records for Niagara’s program don’t begin until the 1905-06 season.

Canisius has the series’ second contest taking place during Niagara’s inaugural season, but Niagara doesn’t have the first meeting with Canisius listed until February 1907, which Canisius doesn’t have.

News archive searches through this time period were not fruitful. In games the schools agree on or could be confirmed before 1915, Niagara leads, 5-4.

In total, we can safely say that Niagara leads the series, 97-75, in the 172 games that were confirmed or agreed upon. Five contests remain at large: Two games Niagara believes it won, two games Canisius believes it won, and one game both teams think they won.

While the discrepancies are curious, they may not be unusual. Neither school’s record against St. Bonaventure University, for example, agrees with what the Bonnies have written down. It’s closer, but the series do not go back as far.

So what does this mean for Friday night? The saying when two rivals meet is that you can throw away the record books, and maybe this time you should.

Pile into the Gallagher Center or tune in to ESPNU and watch two of the country’s leading scorers go head-to-head.

At least for Friday night, forget history and enjoy the moment.


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