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Gristmill: So Much for Tradition

Thu, 09/07/2023 - 05:59
Football fans at an Atlantic Coast Conference game pitting the Maryland Terrapins against the rival North Carolina Tar Heels at College Park, Md., in 1957.
Warren K. Leffler, U.S. News & World Report Magazine Photograph Collection, Library of Congress

Why can’t well enough be left alone, you may well ask.

“I am asking,” goes the old Monty Python routine.

“And well you may.”

What I’m inquiring about here is the torpedoing of meaningful college football conference alignments.

Put another way: “How about that crazy Pac-12?” my brother writes from the coast. “Bye, I guess, 100-plus years of tradition — goneski. The Washington State coach was like, ‘Well, I guess that’s the end of the Apple Cup and the civil war,’ ” referring to that school’s storied rivalry with the University of Washington across that multitudinous state, one side of the Cascades verdant and rockily coasted, the other flat and agricultural, bordering on the vast American deseret.

“Long-running rivalry games down the drain,” my brother went on. “The Washington Huskies president was particularly lame: ‘It’s not about the money. This gives our athletes a chance to compete against the best.’ Haha! Some late-night wag on ESPN said, ‘You know when they say it’s not about the money? It’s about the money.’ ”

The New York Times, ever adept at chronicling societal trends, attempted to corral the chaos in an elaborate graph of “major college football programs since 1965,” noting that “schools switching conferences are highlighted,” rendering it not unlike a color-coded breakdown of wind speed and direction in a hurricane.

(Before the mid-1990s, need it be said, stability reigned.)

The two reporters cite the “chase for TV revenue” in “effectively ending the Pac-12,” going on to point out, “On Friday, the presidents of the Atlantic Coast Conference voted to extend invitations to Stanford, Cal and Southern Methodist.”

Uh-huh. Tradition and familiarity aside, whatever happened to keeping travel times sane so college athletes have a chance to study?

Oh, wait, I’m thinking of Division III.

“C’est la vie, c’est la guerre,” my brother writes in signing off. “I’ll still watch no doubt, so I guess I’m hypocritical.”

Me, I just may limit myself to the N.F.L., which I see starts its season tonight. Life is short, sport is long.

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