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Can't We All Just Get Along?: A Reply to Black Shoe Diaries

On this, the night of the B.C.S. national championship game, I interrupt my review of the Mark Richt record to offer a few words in defense of interconference unity. I have tried and tried to promote good relations between the Big Ten and the Southeastern Conference, which is an objective in which some Big Ten fans are interested but others evidently are not.

This brings us to a recent posting from my SB Nation colleague, Mike from the Penn State weblog Black Shoe Diaries. Mike is a fine fellow with whom I have much in common, including a shared desire to see our respective conferences do well in bowl games.

When explaining why he would be rooting for the Buckeyes this evening, Mike wrote:

[S]omeone has to bring ESPN and the SEC lovefest back to reality. If you listen to them the game tonight is just a formality. We're only playing it because we have to. It's like a game between the Toronto Bluejays and Tampa Bay Devilrays in early September. It's on the schedule so we might as well play it.

Now, I have no problem with a fellow rooting for his conference to do well; Maize 'n' Brew Dave gave good reasons for doing just that, in fact. Let us not forget, however, that, one year ago, the situation was reversed: Ohio State was the anointed golden child and the Gators were the parvenus who amounted to little more than undeserving interlopers at the Buckeyes' inevitable coronation.

Even this year, Ohio State's place in the game was accepted as a fait accompli while L.S.U. and the other candidates had to fight their way into contention. This is The Narrative in action, but there is no conference bias to it; it's just ESPN doing what the Worldwide Leader does to serve its own interests. Mike more or less admits this in a later comment, when he recognizes (correctly) that the pendulum will have swung back in favor of Southern California before the start of next season.

Mike continues:

If you read the preseason magazines you were convinced that LSU was going to meet USC in the BCS championship game. USC's loss to Stanford couldn't be overlooked by the voters and computers. But LSU's losses to Kentucky and Arkansas could.

Mike is, of course, correct about the preseason predictions, but there is no comparing the games in question. The Trojans lost at home to a four-win Cardinal club, while the Bayou Bengals fell twice in triple overtime to eight-win Kentucky and Arkansas teams whose seasons ended on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, respectively.

Mike goes on to add:

Take a look at the Big Ten bowl scenario this year.

Michigan plays Florida in Orlando

Penn State plays Texas A&M in San Antonio

Illinois plays USC in Pasedena

Ohio State plays LSU in New Orleans

Are you sensing a pattern here? Heck, even Purdue had to go to Detroit to play Central Michigan. Every year the Big Ten has to overcome this institutionalized disadvantage.

Much like the overused "S.E.C. speed" mantra, this is a canard that has been repeated often enough that otherwise intelligent people are starting to believe this nonsense. Neutral site games are neutral site games; the tickets are allotted equally to both sides and there is no shortage of Big Ten fans in the Southeast . . . which may have something to do with why the Midwestern B.C.S. conference voluntarily contracted to receive bids to these bowls.

My parents and most of the members of my family live in South Georgia and this year's Christmas scheduling happened to have me headed southbound on I-75 on the weekend before New Year's Day. After a while, I stopped trying to count how many Michigan license plates I saw. To their credit, the Wolverine faithful headed to the Sunshine State in droves. The persistent complaints about bowl games being played in California, Florida, Louisiana, Texas, and other places where the weather is remotely hospitable in the winter need to end.

Instead, though, we must endure the expression of sentiments such as this one from one of Mike's commenters:

I want to see these top-tier SEC teams travel up North once and while [sic.] to play. Other than 'Bama it seems like they either stay in the South or they go west for OOC games.

That's because Big Ten teams won't play S.E.C. teams in the regular season. Georgia's athletic director, Damon Evans, tried to get Michigan on the Bulldogs' schedule, but he couldn't get a phone call returned. The 'Dawgs aren't playing in the Midwest because teams in the Midwest won't schedule the Red and Black.

Finally, a commenter at Mike's site offered this tasteless animadversion:

If Adolf Hitler..........

himself were playing QB for the other team.....I would still root for Hitler's team to beat the team from the SEC.

Now, I am all for the spirit of rivalry; I scarcely make mention of the Bulldogs' longstanding series with the Plainsmen without reminding everyone that I hate Auburn. (I hate Auburn. See?) Expressing the intensity of your dislike for the opposition is one thing, though; stating a preference for the leader of Nazi Germany as the better alternative to rooting for a Southeastern Conference school, though, is quite beyond the pale.

I should hasten to add that the foregoing statement was offered by a lone commenter, and it does not represent Mike's view or the views of his other readers. That extreme exclamation of bilious resentment is not representative of the majority perspective. I realize that, and I want my constructive criticisms of Mike's posting to reflect my realization that, while some of what he has written is wrong, none of it is unreasonable.

We need to recognize, though, that there are lines that ought not to be crossed and prejudices that ought not to be reinforced, lest they become even more ingrained. As I prepare to post this reply, the national title game is underway and a back-and-forth battle is tied at ten points apiece. This contest and its aftermath should be about the game at its best, not the fans at their worst.

I don't fault a Big Ten fan if he wants to root, root, root for the home team---and, yes, Ohio State is the home team in New Orleans---but, when boosters from other leagues react to such things viscerally and take such things personally, they lose me. Mike is a good guy and a respected colleague whose conference homerism I understand and appreciate. Sooner or later, though, the time has to arrive for college football fans of good will to drop the my-dad-can-beat-up-your-dad playground act and begin behaving like what college football is supposed to teach the student-athletes to be: men.

Let's all make that our new year's resolution, shall we?

Go 'Dawgs!