Collateral damage is never a good thing, and that’s not simply a reference to the 2002 Arnold Schwarzenegger film. The collateral damage of conference realignment is traditional rivalry. Now, many remain unscathed; the majority, even.
Those games that have endured conference shifts keep the programs in touch with their all-important tradition while moving toward the future. But for the rivalry games that will, or have already dissolved, a bit of their identity is gone with it.
Rivalry is a key distinguishing characteristic of the college game. There are those who would contend Duke-North Carolina basketball, any combination of Eagles-Giants-Cowboys-Redskins and Red Sox-Yankees trump the Iron Bowl, USC-Notre Dame, Michigan-Ohio State, the Red River Rivalry. Tell that to those who with firsthand experience of a college football rivalry.
College gridiron rivals meet only once per season, so the bragging rights are worth that much more — not to much there are often trophies involved. The more antiquated, or the more ridiculous, the better. But simply adding a trophy doesn’t make a rivalry. Nebraska and Colorado said farewell to their partnership last summer. Nebraska tried to fill the void with a “rivalry” against Iowa. But simply calling it a rivalry and introducing an award doesn’t make it so. Rather it comes off as disingenuous.
Rivalries happen organically. The bitterness that makes these rivalries so important to the sport’s identity was forged over numerous decades and individual moments of triumph and heartbreak.
West Virginia is nowhere near anyone’s backyard in the Big 12. Missouri may share a border with Arkansas, but the Hogs won’t drop the “Ar” from their name any time soon — nor will they drop their still burgeoning season finale with LSU (it’s an annual meeting two decades old, yet still not fully to the status of rivalry).
The annual Holy War pitting BYU against Utah could be the latest casualty of tradition. The two meet in September at UU’s Rice Eccles Stadium, their second game since splitting from the Mountain West Conference. But beyond that…?
BYU’s 2013 schedule is half-constructed. Included on the slate is Texas returning the favor of the Cougars’ visit to Austin last season, Georgia Tech trekking West from Atlanta, the first in a series with fellow independent Notre Dame, and Hawai’i, Boise State, Houston and Utah State dotting other Saturdays. UU has just one game slotted for the ’13 campaign, but is guaranteed nine more via its Pac-12 affiliation.
The Cougars lack the luxury of guaranteed league games, which made the continuation of the Holy War seem like such a win for the program. The continued presence of the Utes on BYU’s schedule meant one less week possibility inhabited by FCS or WAC riff-raff, as was the case in about half the Cougars’ 2011 slate, and the final month of their 2012 season. And that’s to say nothing of continuing a heated, and oftentimes exciting rivalry.
February 2012 might be too early to hit the panic button. Week 3 is open on BYU’s slate, and the two Holy Wars since realignment? Week 3.