Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Rivalry games and why not playing them is bad business, literally

The latest in conference realignment talk -- which is a long way from finishing its spin cycle -- centers around Missouri and their not-so-subtle efforts to get into the SEC. This news comes just days after the Big 12 seemingly had created stability in a league on shaky legs by agreeing to pooling the money made off of Tier I and Tier II media rights and through a six-year grant of rights to the conference.

As you might imagine, Kansas head coach Bill Self was less than thrilled with this news, and I don't blame him one bit. He's the head coach of one of the biggest, most popular and most influential basketball programs in the country at Kansas, but since his school is lacking in football success and tradition, most projections of the eventuality of super-conferences have the Jayhawks on the outside looking in. Missouri jumping ship to the SEC, thus further weakening the Big 12, would make that inevitability one step closer.

"To me it's a great rivalry, one of the best in college basketball without question, but I don't think I would be interested in having a once a year game like I did when I was at Illinois, playing Missouri," Self told the Journal-World on Tuesday night.

"I could probably change my mind (but) trust me, we would have no trouble finding another non-league game to play. I love the rivalry. Playing home and home in the league is great and all those things ... (but) I can't imagine, why would we continue playing? If they choose to be somewhere other than with us and with the other schools that they’ve been a part of and could jeopardize the future of the other schools ... I'm not going to make a commitment now that we'd ever play again. I'm not saying we won't. I'm certainly not going to pretend that we would."

I strongly suggest you click and read through that link if you haven't already. Self is pissed, and if that's him holding back in the media, I'd hate to be the guy that committed four turnovers in the first half during one of his halftime lectures.

Now, it goes without saying that the worst part of this process of conference expansion is the death of rivalries, and The Border War is one of the best there is. It has been played uninterrupted since 1907, with Kansas leading the series 171-94. But this rivalry isn't just a case of two teams having played a lot of games over the years or a number of great games in recent seasons. And this isn't a case of one school simply not liking the other school.

The rivalry between the University of Kansas and the University of Missouri stems from the rivalry between the state of Kansas and the state of Missouri, which dates all the way back to before the Civil War. When our country was being settled and people were starting to spread out west, tensions rose between the two over the issue of slavery -- Missouri was a slave state while Kansas was a free state. The conflict turned bloody, particularly during the War.

Games between the two schools are always going to be heated. It doesn't matter if the teams involved are in a position to compete for a league title, because a .500 season can be defined with a win in the Border War. That's what a true rivalry is all about.

And taking that away from the fans because one school or one coach is butthurt over their rival's luck in landing a spot at the cool kid's table is not only a shame, but it would be dumb and shortsighted.

I'm calling out Bill Self here because he is the guy whose quotes made the rounds on the blogs this afternoon, but the same can be said for everyone on in the athletic departments and coaching staffs at schools like Texas and Texas A&M, or Syracuse and Georgetown, or Pitt and West Virginia.

Conference realignment has only stoked the flames of each of the four rivalries I've mentioned in this post. Georgetown fans are pissed that their program, which was a major reason that Big East basketball became the Big East basketball that we know and love today, is going to eventually be relegated to playing in a Catholic League that's on par with the Atlantic 10. Pitt and Syracuse fans are pissed their team is getting blamed for the death of the Big East when they simply made a move that everyone else would have made. West "f*cking" Virginia fans are pissed that Pitt was able to find a comfortable landing spot while they are getting denied by the SEC and the ACC. Texas A&M fans are pissed about the Longhorn Network while Texas fans are pissed Aggie fans are pissed about the Longhorn Network.

And all of that gets thrown on top of the hatred that already exists between the two schools. Think about the anticipation that would lead up to those games if they are only played once every season. Think about how many tickets would be sold. Think about how many folks would watch the games at home. Think about how many gimmicky t-shirts and bumper stickers and hats and posters can be sold.

This is supposed to be all about money, right? We are destroying the fiber of our collegiate athletics system because these schools are trying to make a quick buck, amirite?

So why would they pass up on a marketing opportunity like this? Because they are are pissed at each other? Because the opposite sides of the rivalry is holding a grudge against one another?

If people were smart, they would capitalize here, turning anger into a more intense rivalry, and those rivalry games into a more profitable event.

But if people were smart, we probably wouldn't be in this situation in the first place.

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