Civil Conflicts: College Football’s Newest Rivalries

In case you didn’t know, the UConn Huskies blew out the UCF Golden Knights in a conference football game a couple of weeks ago. You could be forgiven for overlooking this particular bit of blazing-hot AACtion, as the records of the two teams currently stand at a combined 4-14 on the season. But you missed a RIVALRY GAME. That’s right, UConn and UCF are rivals, if you ask UConn. This is in spite of the fact that Storrs, CT and Orlando, FL are more than 1,200 miles apart. The two schools had only played each other twice in history when the rivalry was officially consecrated this year.

It turns out all UConn needed to do was create a generic trophy and give the annual league-mandated contest an equally white-bread moniker: THE CIVIL CONFLICT. What’s more, UCF never signed off on any of this. Although the move is akin to giving yourself a nickname, or telling everyone that an arbitrary female acquaintance is your girlfriend, it does set a compelling precedent. What if any school could declare a rivalry against any other school, in any sport, for any reason at all? The world where this can happen is the world I’d rather live in, so I decided to come up with a few examples.

Vanderbilt vs. Cumberland University

The Vanderbilt Commodores are used to being overlooked among their SEC football peers. Save for the exploits of professional sourpuss Jay Cutler, and some modest success under now-Penn State head coach James Franklin, the program is pretty anonymous. Seemingly every week during the conference schedule, year in and year out, Vanderbilt faces off against LSU, Alabama, or Florida squads laden with blue-chip talent that dwarves the abilities of Vandy guys. Of course, Vanderbilit’s players are gifted athletes, just not when juxtaposed with their in-conference foes. That’s why they should turn the tables for once, and mix it up with an in-state opponent that would almost assuredly net them a more favorable outcome than their yearly tussle with Tennessee, which they have only won four times in the last forty years.

The Cumberland Bulldogs, who play their home games a mere 25 miles from Vanderbilt and compete in the NAIA (a step below the lowest NCAA rung) would finally give the Commodores a reason to feel like they can sit at the big-kid table. Vanderbilt is lucky to have Cumberland in the neighborhood, as the school’s main (only?) contribution to the college football annals is its 222-0 loss to Georgia Tech in 1916 (which has its own Wikipedia page.)

As luck would have it, Vanderbilt is in perfect position to pull some strings and pencil in Cumberland as an opponent for the 2016 season. It’s time to celebrate the centennial of the GT game with the requisite gusto. Can the Commodores hang 223 on a Cumberland team that has dropped games this year to schools that sound like stock backdrops to teen comedies, like the University of Pikesville and Campbellsville University? Will it finally help Vanderbilt break through the yoke of an SEC inferiority complex? Will anyone care that the game cannot count under NCAA rules?

Ball State vs. Army

Anyone who has played or even watched any amount of football knows about the preposterous military analogies that are used by coaches and commentators. A particularly rough game is referred to as an “all-out war,” a skilled quarterback is called a “field general.” Although the vast majority of real wars have led to more bloodletting than your average Packers-Vikings clash, and Philip Rivers likely wouldn’t have been much of a general had he been tasked with outmaneuvering the Nazi Afrika Korps in World War II, we accept this combat verbiage as part of the game. It’s time to take it even further.

I picked Ball State for this example, but that spot may as well be a Mad Lib for “any moribund football school in Middle America that struggles to incite national buzz.” Ball State is a slight favorite because of its Muncie, IN (birthplace of Garfield the Cat!) locale, and the fact that its coach grants in-depth Skype interviews that receive 59 YouTube views in five months. My idea is this: why keep talking about how you’re “in the trenches” against the likes of Central Michigan and UTEP, when you could be taking on guys from the actual army, and the strongest one in the world, at that. If the coaching staff can get the guys in the locker room to buy into the notion that defeating the US Army at football somehow makes them real soldiers (and never teach them what “false dichotomy” means), then maybe rivalries with Air Force and Navy can also be in the offing. Best part? Beating Army is totally doable, as we’re talking about a team that dropped a heartbreaker to FCS Fordham earlier this year. No word yet on whether Fordham will be sent to defend our freedom abroad.

Harvard vs. Grand Canyon University

Harvard, of course, is a household name synonymous with the best that higher education has to offer. As members of the Ivy League, they’re used to competing against schools in their same rarified academic air; Princeton, Yale, and Columbia come to mind. The Crimson would do well to spice up their basketball slate with an opponent so diametrically different that the narratives would write themselves: Stuffy versus Hardscrabble. Old versus New. This is where the perfect foil comes in: Grand Canyon University. GCU, the first for-profit university ever to field NCAA Division I teams, boasts a population composed mostly of online-only students, and has been successfully sued by the federal government for using unlawful tactics to goad those same students into attending a very expensive degree mill of a school.

“THEY can call themselves a university?,” the Crimson would wail from the inside of the locker room prior to the opening tip. They would have to come out fired up, with the future of education hanging in the balance. One of most famous alums from either school could serve as an honorary captain. Harvard could go with any of dozens of former or current heads of state, or even Fresh Prince of Bel Air star Tatyana Ali, while Grand Canyon could trot out… I guess, former Angels (California, Anaheim, AND Los Angeles) slugger Tim Salmon. These games would present a showdown between representatives of disparate philosophies, and a high-profile rivalry might even help to elevate discourse about college accessibility in the modern United States. Or they’d play an inconsequential December game that nobody would care about.

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Jaime Alayon received his PhD in cardiology from Grand Canyon University. You should follow him on Twitter.