Traditions: College Football Leaders Turn a Blind Eye
Traditions are worth billions of dollars when they are the rah-rah, team-supporting customs associated with big-time college football games.
Therefore, it seems strange that the ever-greedy leaders of major college football institutions are, in many cases, willing to abandon traditional rivalries that are such obvious sources of big income while they seek to move from one conference to another lately. Apparently, these money-grubbing leaders of higher education see more revenue in jumping ship than in playing another game against a good old friendly foe.
These traditions are reasons for keeping together people of similar interests and backgrounds, such as alumni of a given college or university. A tradition can serve as a human glue unlike any other influence and can be an excellent fundraiser for institutions. Money, money, money.
College football has cultivated such traditions over nearly a century-and-a-half in the form of these annual games that have been played well over 100 times each. The big crowds of alumni and other fans attracted to the traditional games each year spend lots of money for expensive tickets and souvenirs.
The silly choreography of musical chairs that has college after college jumping ship these days in order to get aboard a bigger and better luxury liner has already resulted in throwing overboard some of the most- played traditional college games from the past. Other wonderful, traditional games are threatened by these moves from one conference to another.
Two of the four most-played games in major college football have been discarded because of moves involving the Big 12 Conference. These are the Kansas-Nebraska and the Texas-Texas A&M games.
Unfortunately, no one involved seems to be the least bit concerned about saving such long-standing annual games. They only seem concerned about making more and more money from ESPN and other TV outlets. Who cares if some alumni want to return for the annual game against their arch rival?
It appears that Texas and Texas A&M may not play each other for years to come following their 118th meeting at College Station, Texas, on Thanksgiving Day. This contest was once voted football’s No. 1 traditional college rivalry. But the Longhorns and Aggies have been at odds ever since this conference realignment surge began months ago.
The Texas-Texas A&M game ranks as the third-most-played rivalry in the Football Bowl Subdivision, which was formerly Division 1-A.
Texas A&M is headed for the Southeastern Conference next year while Texas, set to join the Pac 12 on the West Coast a few weeks ago, is remaining in the Big 12 — at least for the present. Kansas has already lost Nebraska, a long-standing traditional rival, to conference shuffling. These two teams met for the 117th time last year but do not meet this season, as Nebraska moved from the Big 12 Conference to the Big Ten this year and thus dropped the Jayhawks. Kansas and Nebraska played their first match in 1892.
The Kansas-Missouri game might be in jeopardy if Missouri moves to the Southeastern Conference as planned. The Jayhawks and Tigers will meet for the 120th time, Saturday, Nov. 26, in Kansas City. This rivalry is second on the most-played list of Football Bowl Subdivision or major teams.
No two teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision (Formerly Division 1-A) have met as many times as Minnesota and Wisconsin. They will play one another for the 121st time, Nov. 12. This Big Ten Conference game should be safe from the current nomadic tendencies of some college teams. The Gophers and Badgers aren’t going anywhere.
The attitude toward tradition seems to have changed considerably. Last week, Nick Saban, the Alabama coach, said he did not give an (expletive) whether Alabama played Tennessee in the future. He had other things to be concerned about.
Undefeated and ranked No. 2 in the nation, Alabama met Tennessee last night at Tuscaloosa, Ala., in the 94th version of one of the South’s most famous annual college games.
Maybe the people in charge just do not care about history and tradition. That seems to be something of a national disease among many folks under the age of 50.
About 30 years ago, Roger Valdiserri, the assistant athletic director for public relations at Notre Dame, told me that he was always disappointed to realize that incoming freshmen football players in those days never heard of The Four Horsemen of Notre Dame. But you can be sure that before the end of their freshman year, those Notre Dame rookies knew plenty about Harry Stuhldreher, Jim Crowley, Don Miller and Elmer Layden.
Those Four Horsemen make up one of the many highly treasured football traditions at the nation’s most famous major football institution. No one is going to eliminate Notre Dame traditions.
The three most-played games in college football do not rank as “major college” games anymore, since they involve teams now in the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division 1-AA). But at one time, long, long ago, when traditions of this game were first developing, the teams involved in these games were the elite and among the major Eastern powers.
The most played series in college football belongs to Lehigh University and Lafayette College, two institutions that are practically next door neighbors in eastern Pennsylvania. They will meet for the 147th time at Bethlehem, Pa., Nov. 19.
No other game comes close, although “The Game,” which means Harvard vs. Yale, will be played for the 128th time, Nov. 19. A week prior to that, on Nov. 12, Yale plays Princeton for the 134th time, making that second to the Lehigh-Lafayette game in most played among all college football contests.
These Ivy League games will not be touched by the colleges jumping like kangaroos from conference to conference.
Fortunately these and other long-standing traditional games will remain with us as part of the attractive side of intercollegiate football that has been so tarnished by a continuing litany of scandals.
Among the traditional games that remain is the one I consider to be the best of all such annual matches, the Army-Navy game.
Hopefully, this great service rivalry will never be a victim of the rush to remake major college football conferences. This is our oldest truly national college football game. It is for that reason that I consider the Army-Navy game to be the premier college football rivalry even though it has been played “only” 111 times, starting in 1890 at West Point, N. Y.
There have been great games in the famed service academy rivalry that is often witnessed in person by the sitting president of the United States. If you are looking for tradition, look at the Army-Navy game with its pre-game march into the arena of the Corps of Cadets and the Brigade of Midshipmen. You can’t beat it and I surely hope it never ends.
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His email is email@example.com.
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