DALLAS — Nothing beats a rivalry, which is why Teddy Roosevelt welcomed Oklahoma as the 46th state in 1907, so Texas could have a date when the State Fair finally rolled around.
And no sport appreciates a good feud quite like college football. Michigan-Ohio State. Texas-OU. Miami-Florida State.
Rivalries happen for several reasons, the first usually geography. The combustible nature of proximity was established long ago, probably in a one-bathroom house. The next major component is time, lots of it. Decades, even.
You can’t just make this kind of stuff up, not that the SEC and a couple of governors aren’t trying.
The SEC started it this spring by designating Texas A&M and South Carolina as permanent cross-division rivals in football. Never mind that they’re separated by a thousand miles and one time zone, and they’ve never played each other in football. They’re now married.
The thing is, the SEC didn’t have to manufacture these cross-division rivals across the board and, in fact, should have concentrated on creating competitive balance league-wide instead. More on that later.
In the interests of pumping up a brand new rivalry, the state’s highest-ranking Aggie, Gov. Rick Perry, told South Carolina governor Nikki Haley that they should play for a trophy. The fact that Haley was agreeable should come as no surprise. South Carolina is big on trophies. Already the Gamecocks play Clemson for the Hardee’s Trophy and Missouri for the Mayor’s Cup. One more after this, and they officially qualify as a youth soccer league.
Give Perry credit: He didn’t go cheap. No iron skillet or brass bucket for him. A Texas history buff, Perry reportedly suggested a bronze of South Carolinian James Bonham, a hero of the Alamo.
A brief history: William Barret Travis, commander, sent Bonham out to drum up reinforcements for the doomed defenders. Bonham made at least one run, maybe two, before returning to die while manning a cannon. Both Travis and Bonham hailed from Saluda County, South Carolina. Considering his stirring “victory or death” letter to the outside world, Travis might have seemed a better likeness for a trophy. Too much baggage, as it turns out. Among other things, Travis left behind an expectant wife and child when he lit out for Texas, and he may even have killed a man he suspected of his wife’s condition. The worst you could say about Bonham was that he got kicked out of what was then South Carolina College his senior year for protesting the quality of campus food. Students there should have had him canonized already.
Anyway, it’s a swell idea for a trophy that recognizes South Carolina’s contribution to Texas independence.
But chances seem remote that it’ll microwave a feud.
What the SEC should have done this spring instead of promoting false rivalries was figure out a way to balance the competition.
For example: Since 2000, LSU has played East division powerhouses Florida and Georgia 19 times. Over the same period, Alabama has played the pair eight times, an imbalance that didn’t go unnoticed by LSU’s athletic director, Joe Alleva.
“I’m disappointed in the fact that the leadership of our conference doesn’t understand the competitive advantage permanent partners give to certain institutions,” Alleva told New Orleans reporters last spring.
“In our league we share the money and expenses equally but we don’t share our opponents equally.”
Besides Auburn-Georgia, Alabama-Tennessee and A&M-South Carolina, Ole Miss gets Vanderbilt as its permanent partner, Mississippi State draws Kentucky and Arkansas plays Missouri.
Meanwhile, LSU gets Florida. Every year.
Now, Alleva understands tradition, and he knows that Alabama-Tennessee and Auburn-Georgia go back a long ways. They can keep those rivalries, he says. Just don’t saddle the rest of the SEC with fake ones. For everybody else, schedule both of the cross-division games on a rotating basis instead of just one of them. Seems perfectly reasonable at that.
Frankly, if you’re going to pair up these schools for no particular reason, A&M should have drawn Kentucky. They could have played for the Bear Bryant Trophy, considering he left the latter for the former.
As it is, trophies alone aren’t much incentive. If this A&M-South Carolina match is to rise to anything, odds are better that Steve Spurrier will be responsible. South Carolina-Clemson doesn’t need any added heat, but a running series of jabs between Spurrier and Dabo Swinney makes for great drama. If Spurrier could work up something similar with Kevin Sumlin, it would help matters immensely.
Either way, we’ll still remember the Alamo. Breakfast? Questionable. But the Alamo, always.