Thursday, July 5, 2012

Has the new 'BCS' rendered rivalries meaningless?

The question does not ask if college football rivalries ARE important, but whether or not they serve any relative purpose to the future system BCS executives and conference commissioners want in place. If we look plainly at how rivals become rivals in the first place, there are varied reasons, but most can trace their roots in one sport and one sport alone: football.

Because I am a UCF fan, I, like my competitive 'rivals' across the interstate at USF, cannot claim that we are rivals as of yet because my university has an 0-4 record against the Bulls. So let's take a look instead at a rivalry that may die because of the current flux that is conference realignment.

We have the Battle for the Keg of Nails, between Cincinnati and Louisville since 1922, was believed to have been started by rival fraternity chapters. This match-up has survived 2 conference changes and 51 total decisions, UC having a 30-21 record over Louisville (not counting ties). Right now, and throughout much of their history, this rivalry game has been a conference game also, but with Louisville selling itself to the Big XII and ACC to get a piece of the prime time television pie, the temptation to abandon history in lieu of the opportunity to make bank may make the moral observer cry out in disgust. Louisville is simply seeking a position of strength in an era where success on the field only matters if you are 'in the club'.

The trophy for the winning team between UC and Louisville.

Many suggest both UC and Louisville are a package deal...but are they? Basketball is a huge ingredient too big to overlook. Louisville is quite a few steps ahead, what, being the #6 program in tournament wins? Louisville has Cincinnati beat 64-43 in the win column, but to be fair, Cincinnati has just as many championships. Basketball isn't a clear-cut indication of whether or not you can really separate these two: rivalry is there, winning is there, but what about value for television?

The University of Cincinnati has to compete against the Cincinnati Reds and Cincinnati Bengals for attention (#35 DMA ranking for TV), while Louisville (#48 DMA ranking for TV) has no major league teams in its city. That means that September thru November, Cincinnati will have a harder time attracting people who aren't in attendance at games to watch their football team play, than Louisville who has no other franchise superceding them on television.

I've said all these things without really being a fan in the midst of the UC-UL rivalry, and without knowing how important it truly is to both programs, so let's take a look at another rivalry that has perished thanks to their already-separation: West Virginia and Virginia Tech. Both universities regularly competed for the Black Diamond Trophy, but because of Virginia Tech's departure from the Big East to the ACC in 2004, the rivalry ended (in 2006).

Rivalries like these can end on a whistle blow simply due to a tactical move. When schools ascend into a stronger conference, the best move is to abandon toss-up games you can't predict the outcome to against bitter rivals. The solution? Schedule weaker opponents who play Division I FBS ball. Far be it for me to tell you that when you schedule weaker teams, they are most certainly NOT on the same level as you...But we'll let the presidents of our schools and the sports network executives decide for us what a level playing field should look like. Don't forsake tradition and competition for money and prestige, if you can avoid it.