Traffic bait, mailing it in or outright promotion. You be the judge.
Pat Forde, who is obviously trying to get back on Erin Calipari's good side, did a little top ten of college basketball rivalries. No brainer right? UNC-Duke #1 and then whoever else. Not so much according to Forde. In fact Forde argues that UNC-Duke has not been up to snuff in recent years and there are others that have superseded it.
The biggest rivalry news of 2009-10 is that the rivalry in college hoops isn't so hot -- at least in relation to its own molten standards.
Duke-North Carolina will still make a whole lot of people hyperventilate when they play two or more times this season. But not the way basketball fans will lose it in the state of Kentucky (when Louisville plays the Wildcats) or in other parts of the Southeastern Conference (when Tennessee plays Kentucky) or in the Big Ten (when Michigan State plays Purdue). Right now there are at least three rivalries you have to rank ahead of the annual Blueblood/Eight Miles Apart/Roy versus K hypefest.
First off, what constitutes the rivalry slowing down or cooling off? The fact UNC has dominated it? Funny that ESPN had no trouble trumpeting all things UNC-Duke when Duke was rolling the Heels during the Doh years and the immediate aftermath. Stakes are not high enough? The past two seasons have seen UNC and Duke play with the ACC regular season title on the line. UNC needed to win in 2007 to claim a share of the title and avoided dropping to the 5th seed in the ACC Tournament. In 2005, UNC was also playing for the ACC regular season. In 2005, 2008 and 2009 an NCAA #1 seed was being dangled in front of the two teams. And from a personal perspective the UNC-Duke games, especially the one in Chapel Hill this season, made me far more anxious than any other game UNC played this past season, the NCAA title match-up included. So from a fan perspective and from the perspective of what these two teams are playing for, I am not following the logic as to why UNC-Duke is taking a backseat to anyone much less three other rivalries.
Now, I can see where there is some merit to the UK-UL discussion though I think the fact these two 0nly play once and the game is in December takes an edge off. Nothing is at stake in December but fan pride. Since these two teams of from separate conferences, it has zero impact on potential conference finishes for the teams in question. Yes you have two red hot personalities coaching the two teams now, one of whom used to coach the other team. John Calipari has touched off a recruiting arms race in Lexington and Rick Pitino is going to be challenged. In other words there is merit to the argument in attempting to equate UK-UL to UNC-Duke but is UNC-Duke taking enough of a hit with the current state of the roster in Durham to warrant demoting the rivalry beneath UK-UL? I supposed that remains to be seen which is really the greatest flaw in the piece. Forde is extrapolating what these rivalries might look like in the upcoming season which is fine and I might be willing to give him UK-UL for one season.
However, there is no way on earth you can convince me MSU-Purdue and UK-UT trump UNC-Duke. Heck, UNC and Duke could both be below .500 and they still trump MSU-Purdue and UK-UT. In terms of the latter, UT men's basketball is still the 3rd best show in Knoxville. UT men's basketball is below women's basketball for fans at UT and they both take a backseat to the football team. UT has only been seriously competitive in men's basketball on an elite level for about four seasons now so it is not as though we are drawing on some grand history. I am sorry, but I just do not see Tennessee vs Kentucky as being this grand rival game that causes the sports world to pause like UNC-Duke does. As for MSU-Purdue, it seems like it is out of left field. MSU and Purdue are the cream of the crop in the Big Ten so when they play this season and probably into the forseeable future the games will be high stakes. That being said, it is still Big Ten basketball not to mention the fact that while Michigan and Indiana do border each other, the two universities in question are four hours apart. Add to that the fact that I am thinking Indiana fans comprise are larger part of the basketball fan base in the state than Purdue does. Maybe Dean Forever or Detroit Heel can correct me on this but I was not aware nor do I believe MSU-Purdue will cause "basketball fans in the Big Ten to lose it" for this game. Nor can that possibly be the case with a Kentucky-Tennessee matchup. UK-UL maybe but I know for a fact that UNC-Duke still has the market on their respective fans "losing it" when those two get together.
Let's call this what it really is: Promotion. Pat Forde is wasting a column in the middle of the summer to establish these games as big rivalry games because in all likelihood, ESPN will televise all of them and they need it planted in the collective consciousness of college basketball fans that this is the case. ESPN, like Gary Parrish and Jeff Goodman also have a serious Calipari fetish right now. Forde has not been so much a Calipari sycophant but maybe he is coming around. At any rate, this is about ESPN trotting these games out at various points during the season and promoting them as being huge games with massive rivalry implications. The problem is they are not, save UK-UL which leads me to ask one basic question. If these three are so much better rivalries than UNC-Duke why doesn't ESPN promote any of them during their much vaunted Rivarly Week? According to Wikipedia, UNC-Duke is the only one that makes the cut.
Rivalry Week is a week of programming by ESPN devoted to showing the top rivalries in college basketball. Games that are annually shown during Rivalry Week include:
- Duke vs. North Carolina
- West Virginia vs. Pittsburgh
- Missouri vs. Kansas
- Syracuse vs. Connecticut
- Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State
- Villanova vs. Saint Joseph's
- Kentucky vs. Florida
- UMass vs. Temple
- Maryland vs. Duke
- Ohio State vs. Michigan