Most of you already know my deep affinity for the rivalry trophies that the Notre Dame Fighting Irish have with a handful of schools. In fact, I’m fairly certain that I am the only Notre Dame media personality that gives these pieces of hardware their respective share of article space, social media posts, and podcast minutes.
What can I say? I friggin’ love the damn things and what they represent. Rivalry trophies are intrinsically a college football thing, and speak to the nature of the sport — which is full of stuff that doesn’t make any sense, other than it’s what we’ve been doing for 100 years.
And then the 1990’s came along and college sports changed forever. Independents started moving towards conferences, and the Notre Dame/NBC deal really threw a bunch of gas on the changes in the way conferences function in terms of TV dollars.
After debasing Notre Dame as a greedy bastard, most media members ended up pushing these “TV dollars are king” narrative right along as the SWC dissolved, as the Big 12 sprang up, and the Big 10 being the first conference to use integers. They weren’t wrong in their takes, but omission is also a sin. While many did state that the college game would be much different in the future, they really failed to hit the true mark — which is the destruction of the regionalization of college football. You know... the the rivalries and bitterness that comes along with the sport.
As a Notre Dame fan, I understand it’s strange to talk about regionalization of a sport that the Irish HAVE to be national in to compete each year. That irony (and a few others) is certainly on my mind. But again... this is college football, and Notre Dame’s independence has been a part of what the sport was for so long. Notre Dame is the one program that actually helped all regions. If you don’t believe me — go look at the attendance for Notre Dame’s away games. Playing Notre Dame means something, even if it’s just pure red hatred.
The Athletic’s Chris Vannini posted an excellent piece about all of this today, that I highly recommend you read.
Conference realignment sucks, and it’s taking away what we love about college sports.— Chris Vannini (@ChrisVannini) July 26, 2021
My column: https://t.co/4kv1CMOYx4
I pretty much agree with everything Chris has to say here, and it angers me to think that this is where we are in 2021 — the butterfly effect in real time. The Texas Longhorns and Oklahoma Sooners make a move, and now all of a sudden the rest of college football goes crazy chasing dollar signs. I can’t blame schools for doing what they think is best for them, but that doesn’t go hand in hand with what’s best for the sport.
Even as I write this and randomly check Twitter, I see Jay Bilas talking about how the SEC and ACC should merge. It actually makes me chuckle to think that a proposal like that is the most college football way to make this not college football.
There really is no way of figuring out how all of this will shake out, even if there are plenty of outlets and fans that have “the plan” moving forward for college football. Notre Dame and the USC Trojans have the greatest intersectional rivalry in all of college football and that still means something right now. What the series means in the future could be something different entirely.
I really hope it doesn’t.
Until anything changes, I’ll still be here talking goofy about rivalry trophies — especially the Jeweled Shillelagh and Notre Dame’s weird insistence that it remain a private affair (and for social media posts). I want that glorious stick to stick out and remind everyone about the game we all love. Vannini wrote:
“The vast majority of us care more about our rivals and goofy trophies than we do who wins the national title.”
He’s absolutely right, even after you throw in our desire as Irish fans for a national championship. I want all the goofiness from everywhere. I want these things to mean more than television contracts — which only means I’m destined to be disappointed. The realignment train is picking up steam, but which tracks it eventually goes down is still a mystery.