With realignment, ACC can’t manufacture rivals, but it knows how to generate hate
By Tracee Hamilton,
The sports department realignment is complete, and I’ve been assigned my new rivalry partner. It’s Sally Jenkins. Sally and I will meet twice a year, home and away, in a sort of festivus that will include feats of strength: Who can open a bottle of wine the fastest, plus, I don’t know, maybe a spelling bee and grammar quiz. She’ll kick my, ah, behind. I’m hoping we can throw in some wheat probing and grave dowsing so I have a fair shot. But chances are we’ll just wind up in some bar, gossiping and swapping titles of good books we’ve read.
You can’t manufacture rivalries by decree. Oh, you can try. The ACC has come up with a plan. To no one’s surprise, Duke and North Carolina have officially been declared rivals. Imagine their relief! So have Virginia Tech and Virginia. Finally, those feelings of acute dislike have been legitimized. Congrats!
Florida State and Miami — all that ACC tradition! — are also rivals, as are North Carolina State and Wake Forest and Clemson-Georgia Tech. Boston College, as an old ACC hand of seven years, will show Syracuse the ropes.
Well, the Terps and Pitt are certainly rivals when it comes to recruiting, and it could be a worse pairing, I suppose. But here we are, in the midst of ESPN’s “Rivalry Week,” and somehow “Maryland-Pittsburgh” booming out from the TV every 10 minutes just doesn’t have the same ring as “Duke-North Carolina.”
Terps fans would love to have gotten Duke as a rival, but that was a non-starter. Maryland-Duke was always more of a rivalry in College Park than in Durham. But Maryland is a charter member of the ACC; perhaps the Terps deserved a longtime ACC school for a rival, such as North Carolina State or Wake Forest?
Or perhaps rivalries could have been allowed to develop naturally, as they are wont to do. But of course, that is no longer possible because of conference realignment.
I’ve made no secret of my disdain for conference realignment, although that ship has long since sailed. (If only it would be captured by Somali pirates.) The creation of faux enemies is just another on a long list of reasons.
The ACC had to create these “rivalries,” so it could create basketball schedules. These “rivals” are guaranteed to play each other, home and away, every year. Then, a team will play the rest of the league in a three-year cycle — for instance, one year Maryland will play Duke twice, home and away, the next year it will play Duke at home, the next year away, and then start over.
Maybe Pitt and Maryland will develop a healthy dislike for each other. Maybe Jamie Dixon and Mark Turgeon have secretly become avid Penguins and Capitals fans. Maybe we can expect to see Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin sitting courtside trading cheers and jeers. It just seems crazy to think these things can be predicted.
What if we’d been assigned best friends and mortal enemies on our first day of school? First, we’d have been five-year-olds with mortal enemies, which would have been odd. But chances are, even as children, we could make better decisions on both than someone else could.
Rivalries are like chili: The longer they simmer, the hotter they get. A lot of the old rivalries — Michigan-Ohio State, for instance — aren’t going anywhere. But some are. The Big 12 (motto: Even We Don’t Know How Many Members We Have!) doesn’t want its schools to play Missouri because the Tigers defected to the Southeastern Conference. So the Kansas-Missouri rivalry — one that was assigned by bloodshed in the preamble to the Civil War, not a bunch of athletic directors in a Holiday Inn conference room somewhere — will soon be over. Now I suppose the SEC will have to assign Missouri a new rival.
I know there’s a reason I still follow college sports. Maybe Sally can remind me of what it is after she kicks my, ah, behind.
For Tracee Hamilton’s previous columns go to washingtonpost.com/hamilton.