Well, it happened again. College football – all of college athletics, really – has changed. Since you're reading this you're probably a college football fan and already know the news. But, just in case you've been living under a rock, the University of California - Los Angeles and the University of Southern California will be joining the Big Ten Conference starting in 2024.
The news broke Thursday June 30th in the early afternoon. The below tweet from Jon Wilner was the first that I saw reporting the potential of a move.
By the end of the evening the transition was indeed finalized, complete with statements from both universities as well as the Big Ten Conference itself. This isn't the type of content I focus on here at this publication. However, when news of this magnitude breaks I think it deserves some attention.
After the dust from the news settled, and the shock of a conference spanning four time zones becoming a reality wore off, the general sense I got from college football fans on Twitter was a mix of fear and fatigue. Folks are anxious regarding the uncertain future facing the sport, and/or school, they love. They're tired of change, particularly change that is both sudden and significant. For two summers in a row now we've seen major brands leave one conference for another in pursuit of a larger stack of cash – and sure, a few other reasons, but mostly the cash.
In physical therapy school I learned that pain, discomfort, and injury are likely to occur at junctional areas – areas of transition, such as the thoracic spine moving into the lumbar spine or where a muscle meets a tendon. Oh man, my parents would be so proud to know that their son is still using his physical therapy knowledge in his college football writing! Anyway, in college football as in biomechanics. We are in a period of transition, which is equal parts uncomfortable and frustrating. I think this frustration is captured well in the tweet below from ESPN's Matt Barrie.
The purpose of today's newsletter is to push back a little bit against this idea that "it's all slowly being stripped away." Just to be clear, this is not intended to pick on Matt, who I like quite a bit and think does tremendous work. I'm simply using his tweet because I think it puts into words the way many college football fans are feeling right now.
First of all, much of what makes college football special to begin with are each individual team's traditions, which Barrie doesn't mention. Those unique rituals are going to be preserved, even in the event of a hypothetical, breakaway Super League – which won't be feasible for many more years at the earliest. I doubt that Wisconsin will stop "jumping around" between the third and fourth quarters anytime soon. Iowa isn't going to stop waving at the children's hospital adjacent to Kinnick Stadium. Auburn could play in the Sun Belt and they would still roll Toomer's Corner – well, some trees close to it, but that's a separate issue – after big wins. The list goes on, but you get the point.
Second, Barrie brings up the "legendary fight songs the visiting band dares to play." If Oklahoma can bring their band to Morgantown and play Boomer Sooner after practically every snap, I'm not sure why they wouldn't be able to do the same at any school in the SEC once they join. Similarly, LSU was planning on taking their band to an out-of-conference matchup at UCLA last season before budget cuts resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic forced the band to stay behind. I bet we still get plenty of fight songs from opposing bands in the post-realignment world.
Lastly, I want to touch on the beginning where he states, "regional ties, state battles, traditional rivalries, and road trips to your favorite stadiums in the conference." I think this was said with the assumption in mind that Oregon and Washington, or even Stanford and Cal, will also leave the PAC-12 for the Big Ten. If that were to happen then losses of a few historic in-state battles would start to add up, but as of now it that isn't necessarily a given. The PAC-12 may yet reorganize, or merge with the Big-12, which would maintain many of these in-state rivalries.
But, let's move ahead with the assumption that the four teams above move to the Big Ten soon. For a handful of teams that would stink! We'll circle back to that, though. Even in this scenario plenty of regional ties, in-state battles, and traditional rivalries remain across college football. Oklahoma vs. Texas and USC vs. UCLA will remain even with their change in leagues. Florida vs. Georgia, Ohio State vs. Michigan, The Iron Bowl, the Egg Bowl, Michigan vs. Michigan State, and Indiana vs. Purdue are all examples of fun matchups that will continue post-realignment. Outside of the major conferences the Sun Belt and MAC are two current Group of Five conferences that have strong regional ties and rivalries within their member schools.
I would hate for college football to lose the Apple Cup. I would hate for college football to lose Oregon vs. Oregon State. I would hate for college football to watch Stanford and Cal get blown up like an oblivious trombone player that shouldn't be on the field during a kickoff return. I DID hate it for college football when conference realignment put a stop to Pitt and West Virginia's annual Backyard Brawl – a game that should be played every year, in my opinion.
However, scheduling agreements have allowed for many great rivalry games to continue despite teams belonging to separate conferences. The SEC and ACC have done this with Kentucky vs. Louisville, Georgia Tech vs. Georgia, Florida vs. Florida State, and South Carolina vs. Clemson. Perhaps I am putting way, way, way too much faith in college football decision makers to maintain annual rivalry games that are important to fans in a post-realignment world. But, I'm optimistic that something can be worked out to keep these great games going. In fact, re-alignment is actually bringing back a great in-state rivalry game in Texas vs. Texas A&M on at least a biannual basis. This situation could play out again in the future if the Big Ten and SEC continue to gobble up schools.
I don't mean to come across as some kind of college football Super League fan. It bothers me that schools and conferences are disregarding the best interests of the student athlete in the pursuit of more money, especially in non-football sports. If you're an Oklahoma State Cowboys fan or an Iowa State Cyclones fan I think you have a legitimate gripe right now. I feel for you. Depending on how things go in the PAC-12 Washington State, Oregon State, and Utah fans may join that list. Again, maybe I'm being hopelessly optimistic, but I think that what makes college football great – traditions, community, big games – will continue long beyond this phase of realignment, even if the transition is a bit bumpy in the interim.
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