Rivalry and tradition are the backbone of college sports. They are what make fans do crazy things like camp out in a tent before a big basketball game or paint their bodies for a big football game. As important as these aspects are to college sports, money talks more, and fans are going to have to get used to that.
It all started back in 2011 when a few schools were moved into different conferences. Colorado and Utah joined the Pac-10 creating the Pac-12 and Nebraska was added to the Big 10. That got the ball rolling for conference realignment in the NCAA, and it seems like it hasn’t slowed down since: Missouri and Texas A&M to the SEC, Syracuse and Pitt to the ACC. There are future moves too; Rutgers and Maryland are set to join the Big 10 next year. A new conference was even created, lumping together leftovers from the no longer existent Big East with members of the MAC and Conference USA to creating a hodgepodge of teams with no geographic relativity called the American Athletic Conference. Even still, the list goes on and on.
Through all of this, passionate rivals are left wondering if they have played their final game against each other. Let’s start with football. No longer will Texas and Texas A&M battle it out on the last week of the season for state pride. No longer will Michigan and Notre Dame meet in a game that pits two of the most storied champions against each other. Even if these games resurface at some point, it won’t be the same. The greatest week of the season: “rivalry week,” where every team would play their hearts out no matter their record, is forever gone.
A trend that is starting to emerge through conference realignment is the formation of super conferences. This is what could create most of the issues when it comes to basketball rivalries. As conferences get larger and larger, there are fewer conference games on the schedule to play. This means that even rivals who still remain in the same conference lose the opportunity to play twice a season, once at each location.
Imagine a scenario in which the ACC continues to grow and become a super conference. This could set up a situation where one of the greatest rivalries in all of sports between North Carolina and Duke is only played once a year. I am a Tech fan, but a sports fan first and foremost. It would be a tragedy if we saw a day where only one side of that rivalry got to experience it each year.
When I step back and look at the mess that conference realignment is, it does make me a bit sad. As sports fans and especially college sports fans, we don’t like change, but we have to learn to embrace it. We are headed in a direction in which there’s no turning back. Passionate fans like me and you are low on the NCAA’s priority list. Probably because they know we will keep coming back for more, and they are right.
So look at this optimistically. Perhaps conference realignment will allow new rivalries to form. As a student at Tech, I know I am happy to see the ACC adding tough programs with strong traditions that we will have to compete with during basketball season (although maybe not while we are still rebuilding).
At the end of the day, the NCAA has power over a lot of things except one: fans. We are the real backbone of college sports, and the NCAA can never take away our passion for our teams. So get out there keep on screaming for your team like a maniac. I know I will.