Dear College Football, Stop Inventing Branded Rivalries


College football programs realigned for financial reasons. Many traditional rivalries that fans care about have been casualties, most notably the Thanksgiving game between Texas and Texas A&M. Discontinued rivalries have created a gap, one that corporate college football has tried to fill and, as is its wont, to profit from.

In this vein, Missouri and Arkansas, paired together as cross-division opponents, announced the schools are now rivals in the “Battle Line Rivalry presented by Shelter Insurance.”

"The rivalry clashes against both geographic and historical boundaries – from disputed demarcations of the border separating the two states to notable alumni and former personnel with ties to both storied athletic programs. The historic rivalry between the two states will take on even more meaning now, as every Thanksgiving weekend the Battle Line will be drawn on the gridiron. The Razorbacks or Tigers will ultimately stake claim to the “Line” – until the next meeting."

“Disputed demarcations of the border” and “notable alumni and former personnel with ties to both storied athletic programs.” That’s specific rivalry fuel if we’ve ever seen it. This will surely make Missouri fans forget about the silly “Border War” bred through more than 100 years of athletic competition against Kansas.

To be fair, the Arkansas State Militia did cross into Missouri with Confederate Forces to fight the Union at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek during the Civil War. Though, it is doubtful the schools will be reliving that moment of genuine history.

It’s not clear from the press release whether there will be an actual “line” trophy Missouri and Arkansas will stake a claim to. But, we can hope.

Financial realities are financial realities. Many traditional rivalries, for worse, are finished. But, the solution is not the creation soulless, artificial ones. Let them develop organically. That’s how the initial ones began.

College football programs and fan bases are very good at embracing minor slights. Jim Harbaugh put a target on Pete Carroll’s back. Stanford and USC have played six one-score games since 2007. That’s now one of the better Pac 12 rivalries. The Big Ten was OUTRAGED about what happened at Penn State vs. Maryland. But, that will be a real rivalry with true animosity the next time those teams meet. No lame trophy or marketing blitz required.

The only thing newfangled, branded rivalries like this ensure is that fans will think twice before exhibiting emotion about a close game or a flashpoint.

[USA Today Sports]