Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

February 13, 2014

Rivalries belong to the fans

When suits make decisions based on money and ego, we lose.

Kokomo Tribune

---- — “Who do you hate?”

If you’ve encountered me and I’ve talked to you about having a sports background from some place I don’t know much about, and we talk long enough, I’m likely to ask you that question.

It’s a sports question, not a social or political question. It means this: Who do you burn to beat? Who do you want to play every year, and think about every day?

Monday night I had a rare college basketball night at home, so I watched Kansas at Kansas State. I love those Big 12 grudge wars. In front of a rowdy crowd that was just short of frenzied, K-State led the entire second half until Kansas finally caught up and forced overtime. The game featured stretches of crisp, smart offensive basketball, and also intense effort. Couple that with a crowd that cares and that’s all I really want.

I’d penned an email to a friend telling him all my joys of watching a big Big 12 night, and how they’re among the most special games out there because Kansas and Kansas State hate each other, and Oklahoma and Oklahoma State hate each other, and everybody hates Texas. Those five teams and the rivalries within that fistful of teams elevates a big Big 12 night over almost any other. The ACC, Pac-12 and Big Ten have great teams, great rivalries and great games, but not quite the same style of crowd, the same flavor as those game nights in the western side of the Midwest.

Maybe it’s all in my imagination, but the combination of the way they play (smart AND intense, a key coupling) and the hunger from their fans makes watching those games consistently rewarding.

Point being I’d hate to lose it. Conference chaos threatened to tear the Big 12 up, and as long as conference presidents, athletic directors and college presidents are Machiavellian and short-sighted, the Big 12 will continue to be under threat.

So, finished with my email to a friend, I saw that at about the same time, he’d emailed me complaining about Indiana and Kentucky not playing each other in basketball, halting a rivalry which had been played continuously since the 1969-70 season. The schools argued about where to play, neutral sites or home venues. Depending on which quotes you read, or what perspective you take, either side might seem like the villan.

The truth is though that neither side’s athletic power brokers cared enough about a rivalry to keep it going — a rivalry that IU and UK fans take great pride in.

Suits with big egos win. You lose.

Same goes for the Michigan-Notre Dame football rivalry. Looks to me like ND is the team to blame here, but I’m sure comments and circumstances could be construed differently. Bottom line is that a border war that the whole country watches is off for this year and the foreseeable future after ND decided it had too much of an obligation to its ACC entanglement (playing their football teams without being in the conference in football) to figure out how to get Michigan on the schedule.

What this means is that colleges which make money off fans’ interest, don’t value the fans’ interests when ducking opponents, oops, I mean, when scheduling opposition.

Suits with big egos win. You lose.

In these cases, and so many others during a time of conference chaos, losing these rivalries weakens college sports. Losing rivalries means losing games people care about, and telling a fan base that the coach’s interests, or the AD’s interests are more important than those of the fans.

These bad decision are done in pursuit of another home game, or a recruiting advantage, or a sweeter TV deal, or immediate money over long-term benefit. Or sometimes, they’re just made out of plain arrogance.

Conference chaos makes college basketball worse but I’ve still got my big Big 12 nights, until somebody makes a dumb decision and takes that away from me.

The more one sport weakens itself, the more sports channels I have on TV and the more options I have. One interest wanes, another rises.

Boxing has made a lot of short-sighted decisions over my lifetime, pursuing pay-per-view pots instead of letting the public watch its product.

Quick, name a current boxing champion.