WashU and UChicago: The state of the rivalry

| Staff Reporter
A man in a white button down shirt and green tie holds a trophy in his left hand and raises his right arm toward a green and red cap. He wears beige khakis. To his right are football players in red uniforms and white pants. They are shouting, many with their helmets off.

Head coach Larry Kindbom and the Washington University football team celebrate after beating the University of Chicago in 2011. This was the last year of the Founders Cup.

When sports teams prepare for a season, a common practice is to look at the schedule ahead. Searching for marquee opponents and travel destinations, teams will also look for matches with their rival. For Washington University, this is The University of Chicago.

While both schools compete in the classroom as top 20 universities in the country, their rivalry takes place in athletics as well. Both have been members of the University Athletic Association (UAA) since its founding in 1986, where they compete for Division III conference and national championships. However, their rivalry dates back much further, as WashU and UChicago first met in football in 1933. 

For many sports at WashU, Chicago is the final game of the regular season. Men’s soccer, for example, will take on Chicago next Saturday, Nov. 6, on Francis Olympic Field at 7 p.m. Head coach Joe Clarke stressed the importance of finishing strong.

“It’s a big game,” Clarke said. “It’s the last game of the [regular] season, and you know you want to finish in the right way.”

WashU and Chicago typically produce thrilling games between highly ranked teams. Both the men’s and women’s soccer teams for each school are currently ranked in the top 15 of the country. This sets the stage for high energy, high intensity matchups to end the season.  

“With a rivalry like Chicago, I think it’s definitely a game that’s exciting, that both sides, us and them, are geared up to play and have a lot of fun with,” men’s basketball graduate student Jack Nolan said. 

Since the two teams play every year, there is great familiarity between each side. 

“Playing them is a huge momentum game because a lot of the girls on our team either have played girls on their team before or we just see them a lot, so we always bring a lot of energy to play them,” women’s volleyball senior Caitlin Lorenz said. “We always are really excited to have them because they’re great competition, but they’re definitely a very beatable team.”

“A lot of kids that come here or to Chicago considered both schools in the recruiting process, so it is always good if you end up winning,” men’s soccer goalkeeper senior Matt Martin said. 

The two schools play for more than just pride. In football, the teams have competed for the Founders Cup Trophy since 1987 with the beginning of the UAA. WashU leads the series 25-9, but 2021 was the last year for the rivalry. As the teams now compete in separate conferences since WashU moved to the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin 2018, Chicago dropped WashU as a future football opponent. WashU leads the all-time rivalry 25-14.

In other sports, the teams compete for UAA conference championships and top spots in rankings. Since Chicago is the only conference team in the same region, their game also affects regional rankings. The late-season matchup can have huge implications for seeding and NCAA tournament positioning.

“It’s just added pressure from both sides to try to play really well to win because it’s basically do or die at that point,” Martin said.

The game also serves as a litmus test for WashU athletics.

“The players care a lot, considering that Chicago has always been a team that has a really high reputation for our division,” Martin said. “Because of that, we always feel like we have to win to progress at all.”

With the schools in close proximity to each other compared to other conference opponents, fans from both teams travel to the games. This creates a more intense, emotional atmosphere in an already-charged matchup.

“We typically play them on their own court, which is a whole other world in itself just because they have a big student section,” Lorenz said.

The two teams constantly produce hard-fought and competitive games. Lorenz remembers the game from her freshman year. “It was all the seniors playing, and I just remember the pure energy was just outrageous because their coaches, their assistants get really hyped up, and our seniors who’ve been playing them for four years at that time were extremely hyped for the game,” Lorenz said. “I just remember the energy in the gym was completely unreal.”

Nolan has had similar experiences.

“Literally every single time we’ve played UChicago it has been a close game,” Nolan said. “I think that’s just a testament to the rivalry and how each team is just really ready to play every time we play each other.”

More from the Student Life sports desk:

We ranked the University Athletic Association mascots three different ways

I thought LeBron was lame for going bald until it happened to me

A love letter to my city’s spirit…creature: Why Gritty is so much more than a Cheeto-furred mascot


Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening as Washington University returns to campus.