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College rivalries pay the price in conference expansion

SEC Football Media Days 2021 will be remembered for the announcement that shook the college athletic world.

That was when word leaked Texas and Oklahoma would be leaving the Big 12 for the SEC.

The ripple effects have been numerous and ongoing.

The Big 12, in a fight for survival, quickly announced the addition of BYU, Central Florida, Cincinnati and Houston.

In a huff, the Big 12, ACC, Big 10 and Pac 12 blocked expansion of the College Football Playoffs from four teams to 12, even though outgoing Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby helped SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick craft the expansion. Ostensibly, Big 10 Commissioner Kevin Warren was against the expansion because it didn’t guarantee the Power 5 conference champions a spot in the playoffs.

A few months ago we found out why he was really opposed when his conference poached the Pac 12’s two marquee programs -- Southern Cal and UCLA. The Big 10 then turned around and signed a mammoth television rights package with Fox Sports, CBS and NBC that positions the Big 10 with the SEC as the two power brokers in college athletics moving forward.

Had the Big 12, ACC and Pac 12 gone along with Sankey’s playoff expansion proposal months earlier, there might be a good chance USC and UCLA are locked into the Pac 12, and the Big 12, ACC and Pac 12 aren’t looking to cannibalize each other as whatever marquee schools remain in those three conferences seek ways to join the SEC and/or Big 10.

Last year following the news Texas and OU were heading to the SEC, a friend who is a vociferous supporter of all things Boomer Sooner -- yes, he even yells it in church -- was ambivalent about the move. Of course, back then, Lincoln Riley was still coaching football in Norman, Oklahoma, and not Los Angeles at USC. Do you think USC’s pending move to the Big 10 might not have been a carrot used to lure Riley west?

The Sooner fan wasn’t worried about having to compete with Alabama, or Georgia or Kentucky. (That is a joke.) There was just one thing he was worried about.

“Am I worried about Oklahoma going to the SEC? No,” he said. “As long as we continue to play Texas and Oklahoma State, I’ll be fine.

“I think they’ll give Alabama a run. I feel sorry for Oklahoma State,” he said. “I’m not a fan, but it is my state. I hate to see the Big 12 break up, but it has been coming for years.”

The Red River Showdown between Texas and OU in the Cotton Bowl is safe and will continue in the SEC. As for the Bedlam Series between the two Oklahoma schools? Sorry. It will join the list of notable rivalries canceled due to conference realignment, just like Oklahoma-Nebraska and the Backyard Brawl between Pittsburgh and West Virginia.

That’s a shame, but that’s par for the course these days in major college athletics.

Once upon time, LSU had a major instate rival in Tulane. Alas, Tulane left the SEC in 1964 and LSU’s and Tulane’s fortunes went in opposite directions.

The Tigers and Green Wave, who have met 98 times in football, have played just five times since the turn of the century, but not in the past 13 seasons. The last Tulane victory came nearly 40 years ago on Nov. 27, 1982 as the Greenies won three of four meetings for their most successful period in the rivalry since winning back-to-back games in 1938-39.

Unfortunately, LSU no longer has a rival that elicits two-way scorn. Sure, LSU fans lust for victories over Alabama, but the purple and gold Tigers will never supplant the Auburn Tigers as Bama’s No. 1 rival.

Arkansas is in much the same shape as LSU, and no matter how hard officials from each school tried to make this a bitter rivalry, it hasn’t worked. Even the introduction of “The Golden Boot” in 1996 didn’t work.

The Golden Boot is the hideous 175-pound trophy in the shape of Arkansas and Louisiana the teams play for in football. It is in such demand that it was once “misplaced” in a garage, and LSU officials have had to deny over the years it has been used as a doorstop.

In 2019 en route to the national championship, LSU throttled Arkansas in Tiger Stadium. Media members flocked to The Boot, waiting to capture video and pictures of the victorious Tigers holding the trophy aloft in front of the student section. Not one player came within 15 yards of it as the team headed to the locker room after the game.

Last Saturday, former border rivals Oklahoma and Nebraska met for the second straight season after an 11-year separation caused by Nebraska’s move to the Big 10 in 2012. It wasn’t the same as the golden years of the rivalry in the 1960s, 70s and 80s.

One rivalry that will be renewed in the coming years is Texas A&M vs. Texas. They last played in 2011.

When word leaked of Texas and Oklahoma moving to the SEC, the likely source was thought to be A&M. The Aggies’ athletic program and finances had soared since moving out of Texas’ shadow in the Big 12. The last thing A&M wanted was to be reunited with the Longhorns.

"We want to be the only SEC program in the state of Texas," Aggie AD Ross Bjork told reporters at the 2021 SEC Media Days.

Alas, A&M President M. Katherine Banks and Bjork couldn’t prevent the expansion. So, in exchange for their “public” support, A&M struck a deal. Upon Texas entering the SEC, which will occur by 2025, the first Texas-Texas A&M football game will be played in College Station, meaning the Aggies will have hosted back-to-back A&M-UT games for the first time in the 118-year history of the rivalry.

That, my friends, is how rivals do it.

Comments? email John at info@446sports.com

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John Marcase
446Sports.com