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Rivalry Week

February 5, 2004 Columns No Comments

Rivalry Week is a Sham

by Michael Ermitage

ESPN’s rivalry week is a crock. It’s as fake as Janet Jackson’s breast – the one we saw anyway. As media-manufactured as any tabloid headline. The clear and simple fact is that this week is deemed “Rivalry Week” by the mega-network because Duke and North Carolina are scheduled to play. And tonight they will.

To the talking heads at ESPN, Duke/UNC is the “quintessential rivalry.” That’s exactly what the king of all talking heads, Dick Vitale, wrote in his online column. He cites the two schools’ proximity (eight miles) and its combined success as the reasons this rivalry is better than any other. There is no question that Duke/UNC is a fine rivalry. But let’s not forget that fans make rivalries. And in the state of North Carolina, unless you’re enrolled at Duke, you’re a UNC fan. Or, perhaps, you’re an N.C. State fan. Thus, the rivalry amongst fans is missing outside of the two campuses. In a smoky bar in Rockingham, North Carolina, the patrons are rooting for Carolina Blue. The same is happening in Rocky Mount and Henderson.

UNC’s enrollment is nearly four times that of Duke’s and furthermore, its student body is more heavily represented by kids born and raised in the Tar Heel state. Duke’s student body is generally made up of more kids from around the country, who often leave North Carolina to pursue jobs outside of the state. Thus raising their families and their kids to be Duke fans somewhere outside of North Carolina. And while the two schools’ dissimilarities adds to the rivalry in some ways, it detracts from it in so many others.

ESPN, however, has been pumping UNC/Duke as the top rivalry for years. And so, it has retrofit the rest of the week to make it rivalry week. The only other game being shown on ESPN this week that I consider being a true rivalry game is Cincinnati/Xavier. In fact, in many ways, I believe this game is a bigger rivalry than Duke/UNC. Well, I have to admit that Pepperdine and Gonzaga are building a nice little competition. And Southern Illinois and Creighton is certainly a grudge match in the Missouri Valley. St Joe’s and Villanova, out of the Philadelphia Big 5, is also a stellar matchup. Those games withstanding, ESPN has fallaciously trumpeted the following “rivalries.”

Syracuse/UConn – Um, no. Syracuse and Georgetown have the history in the Big East. And if Syracuse is going to battle another school for supremacy, it is going to be St. John’s for the supremacy of New York.

Indiana/Illinois – Illinois has a much bigger rivalry with Iowa, dating back to Bruce Pearl turning the Illini in for recruiting violations. Indiana, of course, has a fierce in-state rivalry with Purdue.

Kentucky/Florida – Kentucky has already played its two rivalry games against Louisville and Indiana. Florida is much more preoccupied with Florida State, even away from the football field.

Michigan State/Ohio State – This is a strange pairing considering that both of these schools consider Michigan an “evil that must be destroyed.”

This week is rivalry week to no one but executives at ESPN interested in force-feeding the college basketball public as much premeditated drama as possible. Despite the network’s best efforts to deceive the public into following these false rivalries, the fans know better. Because old-school rivalries, like Auburn/Alabama or USC/UCLA, run deeper than any glitzy feaux “Rivalry Week.” To those fans, it doesn’t matter if the game is played in complete anonymity. It still means everything.


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