This lends itself to the questions of what makes a good rivalry? What makes a rivalry? And, moreover, are Colgate and Cornell rivals in hockey? Colgate certainly thinks so.
If one wishes to answer the question in a word, it would be yes. The institutional rivalry dates back to the years immediately prior to and after Cornell University's founding. Cornell's selection as New York State's land-grant institution in the wake of the passage of the Morrill Land-Grant Act was not preordained. Most existing academic institutions in the state wanted a portion of the funds that would be awarded from the land grant so they opposed the consolidation of New York State's land-grant award to one institution.
The lobbying and political maneuvers of Andrew Dickson White and Ezra Cornell allowed Cornell University to gain acceptance as the singular land-grant institution of New York State. However, opposition did not evaporate once the plans for the principles of Cornell University became known. As soon as Cornell's and White's plan for Cornell University to be nonsectarian was known, nearly all religiously affiliated institutions began to lobby the New York State Senate to oppose the founding of Cornell University as a "heathen institution." Most of these institutions took their arguments additionally to regional newspapers. One of the most outspoken institutions was Madison University. A university that was more appropriately regarded as a seminary at the time. It would change its name later after the heirs of a soap manufacturer additionally decided to endow the institution. It would become Colgate University.
Few institutional rivalries can be as ingrained as a historical opposition to the creation of an institution. It was Colgate that opposed the creation of Cornell. It was Colgate's leaders in the 1860s who believed that Cornell's creation was immoral and an affront to the religious mission of their institution. Colgate has become more secular since that era, but it remains true that it historically was a religious institution that opposed the founding of Cornell upon moral grounds.
Colgate has acted much differently. Colgate even took the approach that it would define its athletic programs in contradistinction to those of Cornell. The adoption of the nickname "Red Raiders" for its programs was to celebrate the triumphs of the small liberal arts institution over the larger, more athletically inclined Big Red of Cornell. The two programs would play often considering their geographic proximity, but it was Colgate, not Cornell, that conceived of the two as rivals and carried on the institutional dislike between the universities in the competitive round.
The overall record of the Colgate-Cornell series is 74-56-12 in favor of Cornell. Cornell's winning percentage is 0.566. That total represents a not entirely lopsided rivalry, but one that is not as competitive as others. To invoke the Cornell-Harvard rivalry as a model once more, the record of that rivalry is currently at 71-59-8 with Cornell owning a 0.543 winning percentage. The would-be Colgate-Cornell rivalry is marginally less competitive than is the Cornell-Harvard rivalry.
Even though the would-be rivalry has seemed lopsided to most recent observers, at one time, Colgate held a distinct advantage in terms of wins and winning percentage. Colgate dominated the rivalry from 1939 through 1965. However, in 1965, Cornell began its modern domination of the would-be rivalry that has allowed it to come back from a deficit of 13 wins at one point and command a 0.566 winning percentage today. Therefore, unlike the Cornell-Harvard rivalry where there have been several shifts in which program has dominated it, Cornell has controlled the would-be rivalry generally between 1921 and 1931, and from 1965 to the present.
The series does have its unique elements and streaks. Both Colgate and Cornell have swept the seasonal series several times in the history of the 91-year would-be rivalry. Colgate has swept a season's series 11 times. Cornell has swept a season's series 16 times. The last for each was 2003-04 and 2009-10 respectively. However, echoing the above trend, five of Colgate's 11 sweeps came before Cornell hockey called Lynah Rink home in 1958. In fact, those five sweeps came before 1947, a season before the NCAA era of college hockey began. Cornell has amassed all 16 of its sweeps since it moved into Lynah Rink.
There is little history of Colgate and Cornell meeting in the post-season. Also, Colgate's one ECAC Championship and three regular-season titles pale in comparison to Cornell's 12 ECAC Championships and eight regular-season titles. Yes, I know that dominant programs can be engaged in heated rivalries with far less dominant programs. Few would doubt the passion of the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry wherein the Yankees have nearly four times as many World Series titles and more than three times as many American League pennants.
The analogy collapses and reinforces the point when one considers that despite the lopsidedness in terms of titles won in the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry, the Red Sox's total of World Series titles is fourth-most among all teams in Major League Baseball. Colgate's total of one ECAC Championship ties it for eighth-most in a twelve-member league. Programs regard contests against programs of equal competitiveness to be the most heated and important typically. This lens shows that Colgate and Cornell are not on the same competitive plane in the ECAC and undermines any arguments in favor of a Colgate-Cornell rivalry.
The social dimension is the most interesting aspect of the would-be rivalry. Upstate New Yorkers comprise a significant portion of the populations of both Colgate's and Cornell's campuses. There is considerable overlap between those students who apply to Colgate and those students who apply to Cornell. Many people at one institution have friends at the other. This familiarity lends itself to friendly rivalry. However, this social aspect ends there. I doubt many Cornellians would construct a top-ten list about their University around the punchline that Cornell is not Colgate. But, it did happen at Colgate. There is little social reciprocity of that kind on East Hill regarding the would-be Colgate-Cornell rivalry.
Cornell approaches the weekend against Colgate like any other while the latter does quite the opposite. No amount of throwing of Big Red gum at Starr Rink will add the passion needed to alter a series into a rivalry. Also, Big Red gum? The Faithful throw Colgate toothpaste boxes to return the favor, but how is Cornell associated with the gum in anything other than the similarity of the name? The toothpaste is directly associated with the company founded by the father of the principal benefactors of Colgate University. It'd be far funnier to incorporate a reference to the telegraph to mock Ezra Cornell's involvement in that industry that allowed him to found Cornell University.
The would-be Colgate-Cornell rivalry has the institutional historical elements to make it a rivalry much like the Cornell-Harvard rivalry. The all-time series between the Raiders and the Big Red is not entirely lopsided. However, the would-be rivalry pales in comparison to most historical rivalries in terms of relevance and reciprocity. Elements that I believe to be key. If the would-be rivals are not of the same competitive plane and have not met in high-stakes competition regularly there is little to make the rivalry inflamed. The series between Colgate and Cornell are admittedly historic but they do not involve the requisite and reciprocated passion to be considered a rivalry.
Colgate-Cornell games are very unlike the passion and vitriol present in Cornell's clashes against BU in previous eras or those against Harvard in the modern era. The inevitable relative comparison to Cornell's involvement in the most heated college hockey rivalry proves fatal to the development of an actual Cornell rivalry with Colgate. Colgate, through no fault of its own, will never be Harvard in the eyes of Cornell. One of the reasons that Colgate-Cornell might not be a rivalry is because Cornell does not dislike Colgate or its athletics an appropriate amount to make it a rival. Even though it is not a rivalry, at least from Cornell's vantage point, I look forward to watching the Big Red face off against the Raiders Friday night in historic Starr Rink.