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Protect Your Unit Week 14 Picks Thread: Contrivalry

Am I really supposed to get mad at an opponent that dresses like this? They look like the 1973 San Diego Padres.
Am I really supposed to get mad at an opponent that dresses like this? They look like the 1973 San Diego Padres.
Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

College football has so many forced rivalry games now that we need a word for them. I hereby offer the below for this purpose:

con · triv · al · ry (noun) \kən-ˈtrīv - əl - rē\ - A college football game that is promoted as a rivalry game, but which lacks the level of interest and emotional involvement generally associated with a rivalry game.

I wish I could take credit for inventing such a great word, but others have thought of it before. Our SB Nation sister site Good Bull Hunting said:

And the term wasn't new then, either. The website frequently uses it to describe forced conflict between reality show contestants, a usage that also fits the word nicely. It's been suggested in other sports contexts, and as far back as 2001. So we're not going to invent a new word here today, but we are going to help perfect it by pointing out some places where it applies.

Contrivalries happen for several reasons:

The Van Hagar. When a genuine rivalry is broken up, and that time slot has to be filled with a rivalry game, some other school is promoted as the replacement rival. Example: Texas-TCU. Granted, every school in Texas hates every other school in Texas, but UT-A&M was next-level stuff.

The Arranged Marriage. When conferences realign, the new teams often have no history with any of the established ones, so they're paired off like awkward teens at a dance. Example: Any combination of Penn State, Rutgers and Maryland. They're basically the Clayton, Jugdish, and Muhammad of the Big Ten.

The Stupid Trophy. When a game is supposed to be meaningful because someone -- usually a corporation -- made up a stupid trophy that goes to the winner. Example: most any Big Ten game.

The Dead Putting Society. When you're ordered to hate your neighbor school because you're competing against each other, even though you've been neighbors for 100 years and this hasn't happened yet. Examples: See below.

The Start-Up. When schools that are new, or new at playing football, try to force rivalries with each other in hopes of increasing student interest. It doesn't work, because it just reminds their students that they wanted to go to better colleges with real rivalries. Example: FAU-FIU.

Here are two of the worst offenders:

Nebraska-Iowa. I live in Omaha, Nebraska, so I get a front row seat for this one. Despite this city being the confluence of Husker and Hawkeye fans, the level of interest just isn't there. Every year we're presented with "is it a rivalry yet?" navel-gazing, and everyone doing their best to seem interested. Like Huskers star Ameer Abdullah here:

We want to make it a good game every year... This is a new rivalry, but being border states you can really feel it growing more and more each year. I’m just happy I’m a part of it and hopefully we can bring the Heroes Trophy to Lincoln again this week.

Sheesh, it's like he's rehearsing his corporate-speak for when he joins the NFL. Which he is, really: the Heroes Trophy was conceived by a local grocery store chain. All he needs to is tack "sponsored by Hy-Vee" to the end of that, get drafted by the Broncos, and join Peyton Manning for a TV commercial. Better pizza, better ingredients.

Let's compare that to the Colorado-Nebraska rivalry. Taking over an awful CU program in 1982, coach Bill McCartney declared Big 8 flagship Nebraska the evil empire. He had the game printed in red on Colorado's schedules, talked up the importance of the game to anyone who would listen, and even forbade his staffers from wearing red clothing. It was all part of a scheme to put his program on par with the mighty Cornhuskers, which they achieved in the late 1980s. The year he left, his successor Rick Neuheisel immediately downplayed the rivalry, saying it had served its purpose. But at least that purpose was building a football team, and not promoting a grocery store.

Arkansas-Missouri. This is contrivalry replacing contrivalry. When Arkansas joined the SEC in 1992, they were paired with LSU for a season-ending conference game. This actually worked out pretty well. The teams played several meaningful games, a (decent) trophy was created, the fans seemed to get behind it, and it acquired some importance on the Thanksgiving weekend calendar.

But rather than keep that, this game has now been moved to earlier in the season, so the SEC's two new teams could have arranged-marriage rivals. Arkansas-Missouri is being promoted as the Battle Line Rivalry, despite the fact the teams haven't played a regular season game since 1963. Missouri center Evan Boehm acknowledged who decides these things anymore:

"If the SEC calls you a rival, you’ve got to be a rival. It’s time to get it going now. We’re going to play them that Friday after Thanksgiving at 1:30 and wherever that goes, it goes."

With that kind of enthusiasm, I'm sure this will be an exciting, emotional rollercoaster that transcends the won-lost record.

Of course, Missouri used to have a rivalry with Kansas called the Border War. And that's not just football-as-war hyperbole: it has its roots in Bleeding Kansas, especially the sacking of the city of Lawrence during the Civil War. It inspired these so-tasteless-they're-hilarious t-shirts. 150 years of historical grudges and mistrust? Now that's a rivalry.

The Battle Line Rivalry has its roots in... an insurance company:

"Shelter got its start in Missouri and Arkansas, so our roots are deep in these two states," said Rick Means, President and CEO of the Shelter Insurance Companies. "We hope that this new rivalry will be a fun new tradition for college football fans in both states."

That's nice. And people wonder why ticket sales are down.

We must, of course, discuss the UCF rivalry in this context. I do not consider it contrived at this point, because these schools and fan bases genuinely dislike each other. We'll see what happens if/when realignment occurs again, but for now, this is probably the most intense rivalry in the AAC. Granted, that's not saying much in this hodgepodge collection of realignment leftovers. But it's something.

On to this week's picks:

I hope you all had a Happy Thanksgiving. Good luck braving the crowds this weekend... on your way to Raymond James for the football game.