Presbyterian College athletics officials once joked that they removed the Bronze Derby from their trophy case, dusted it off for the annual football game against their rival, defeated Newberry and returned it to its rightful place.
These days, the trophy just gathers dust.
The Bronze Derby game has not been played since 2006. Despite the recent efforts of Newberry College president Maurice Scherrens, one of the nation’s best small-college rivalries will not be renewed anytime soon.
“There’s nothing really for us to gain in playing Division II games,” says Presbyterian athletics director Brian Reese. “ I get letters from alumni, especially older alumni. ... There’s no question there is some great history there, but I don’t know if we could recapture that.”
The rivalry was scuttled when Presbyterian began playing at the FCS level of college football beginning with the 2007 season, and Newberry remained an NCAA Division II program.
Nevertheless, Scherrens believes the rivalry goes beyond the playing of the game.
“I know we are the underdog and they are the favorite, and I know they probably do not see much value in playing us again,” Scherrens wrote in an email recently. “But bringing back the rivalry means so much more to the communities than winning or losing the game.”
Scherrens cites the 6,000 attendance figure for the 2006 game played at Presbyterian. Since then, the Blue Hose have played before home crowds of that size a handful of times.
In addition to the monetary gains for both programs by playing the game, there is the historical significance of two schools located 26 miles apart continuing to compete in athletics.
“Since Presbyterian moved to Division I, the rivalry has not died among the alumni and friends of both institutions,” said Matt Finley, Newberry’s athletics director. “It is often the first question I am asked in conversations around the state.”
The rivalry goes back much farther, but the Bronze Derby was established as the traveling trophy in 1947 when a fight broke out among students following a men’s basketball game. A derby hat was stolen from the head of a Presbyterian student in the scuffle. The hat eventually was returned to the student and cast in bronze.
For much of the rivalry, the game was played on Thanksgiving Day, then later moved to the end of the season. Although Presbyterian held a 35-22-3 advantage in Bronze Derby games, the rivalry was as much a part of the fabric of the two programs and their alumni bases as USC’s annual game against Clemson.
Then Presbyterian had bigger ideas. It wanted the national exposure that comes with playing at the FCS level. By 2010, the Blue Hose were getting that by playing Wake Forest and Clemson, with games against California, Georgia Tech, Vanderbilt, N.C. State and Mississippi in following seasons.
Now, Reese says, Presbyterian’s scheduling is the major issue standing in the way of renewing the rivalry against Newberry. As members of the Big South Conference, Presbyterian is obligated to five league games each season. The Blue Hose will play another two “guarantee” games against FBS opponents, leaving four other non-conference games.
Although Presbyterian has played games in recent seasons against Division II opponents, it is moving away from that kind of scheduling and does not have an opponent from the lower level on its schedule in either 2015 or 2016. Instead, Presbyterian plays the likes of Furman and Wofford, both FCS members, outside its league.
For the rivalry to start anew, the teams likely would have to play on a home-and-home basis, and Presbyterian is not interested in playing road games against Division II opponents, according to Reese.
Further, Reese said, Presbyterian is obligated to playing its Big South games over the final games of the regular season. Thus, Newberry could not be scheduled in a traditional end-of-season slot.
Of course, Newberry would be willing to play the game any week of the season, even as the opener. In order to get the rivalry going again, Newberry might also be willing to play at Presbyterian every season.
No matter, it takes both sides having a desire to again spark the flame to this rivalry. For the foreseeable future, it appears that only Newberry is interested.