Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Tarnishing the big rivalry games

Ron Morris' column advising Clemson coach Dabo Swinney to put star C.J. Spiller on the bench for the Clemson-South Carolina game raises a provocative/troubling point about the status of some of the best rivalry games of the college football season.

Morris believes it's far more important for Spiller to be ready for the ACC Championship matchup with Georgia Tech than to risk his turfed toe to further injury against the Gamecocks.

Many South Carolinians undoubtedly are laughing out loud at the notion that Spiller shouldn't play -- particularly Clemson fans who might find it a tad ironic that the suggestion is coming out of Columbia, even if Morris is a frequent critic of Coach Steve Spurrier and his program.

Still, is the ACC Championship game more important to Clemson than its annual Civil War with Carolina?

Emotionally? Heaven's no.

Financially? Hell yes.

There are millions at stake if the Tigers beat Tech and make it to a BCS Bowl. But what price do you place on bragging rights?

This balance-sheet comparison has been made relevant by conference championship games and the whole BCS bowl system that have made Big Bucks an even move visible influence on the fabric of college football. Sadly, one of the losers in the new system are the end-of-the-year rivalry games that involve teams from different conferences: Florida/Florida State and Carolina/Clemson.

Not long ago, the Sunshine State slugfest was one of the most eagerly anticipated games of the year. Now it's nothing more than a potential speed bump before the real Big Game: the Gators' battle with Alabama in 10 days. Most of the college football world -- and the bowls and the networks and the casual fans -- are hoping beyond hope that 1. Florida wins. 2. Tim Tebow doesn't take another blow to the noggin. In short, let Florida win by two TDs and move on.

The same traps exist for Alabama as it prepares for its Friday visit to hated Auburn. The Iron Bowl keeps more of its luster because the teams are in the same division of the same conference, and many years the game decides who goes to Atlanta from the SEC West. Besides, the level of hatred remains so high that the game is always a kind of car wreck that no one can ignore.

This year, even the Iron Bowl has been compromised. If Alabama and Florida were both to lose this weekend, the winner of their game is still likely to get a shot at the national championship.

But it hard to imagine Nick Saban or Urban Meyer holding a slightly dinged-up star out of either game, just as it's hard to see Spiller not playing against South Carolina. There's just too much at stake -- from recruiting to in-state dominance to the personal satisfaction of kicking your annoying neighbor's butt.

Money is changing the game, but not that much.

-- Michael Gordon


bama brother said...

Tony Barnhart's column is on the mark in a lot of respects. You could survey the student bodies at both schools, and find how similar they were in family income, religious denomination, where they come from in the state. Go to their games and you're likely to see a similar mix of fans - yahoos to the well-heeled and, thankfully, an ever-growing number of black faces. But there's a basic internalized belief among many Auburn people, not without some justification, that there is an arrogant, condescending, elitist outlook toward them from that country club school in Tuscaloosa.
By contrast, one Auburn trustee once told me, Auburn has a middle class sensibility. Though I am overstating and simplifying here, it goes a little like this: You Alabama folks like to portray your school as one that produces Alabama's future leaders. Well, our farmers put the meat on your tables, our engineers build the bridges and roads on which you ride to your beach houses, we establish - don't inherit - our own businesses, and have a brand of campus politics not dominated by a secretive, corrupt, elitist Greek machine, two of whose products are now caught up in our state's ongoing political scandals.
Again, this is very simple, and thoughtful folks can put a shotgun full of thoughtful pellets through a lot of it. But I think it has merit, and I think it also explains why one night, 40 years ago, the Auburn campus erupted in a spontaneous celebration because Alabama's football team had just lost to Vanderbilt. And one of the main leaders of that celebration was none other than Auburn's dean of students at that time.

bama brother said...

Here is some interesting reading about that 1969 celebration

Scott S. said...

You play to win the game! Dabo's not crazy, Spiller will play. Even with bigger things ahead, they know a loss to their rival would tarnish their season. Also helps with recruiting too.

All this games needs is for us (USC) to stop fading at the end of the season. If we were ranked, the game would get plenty of run.

Anonymous said...

Clemson-SC is one of those games that is only really important inside the state borders, like the Apple Bowl in Washington and the Civil War in Oregon. USC-UCLA, Ohio St-Michigan, and certainly the Iron Bowl, are much bigger nationally. But yes, Scott S, in-state recruiting is definitely affected by who wins the rivalry game, and thus you would expect all the key players to play if able.

Ron Morris is a blithering idiot. No rivalry game should be played to start the season, and no star player should be held out of a rivalry game due to a minor injury.