Tomorrow at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, two midwestern football rivals will take to the field in a game that has come to be known as the Border War.
The University of Missouri-Columbia Tigers vs. the University of kansas Jayhawks... also known as the "Ugly Birds". Yes, as an alumna of Mizzou, I have an opinion about our opponent. This game has been played every year since 1891... and its roots go back to the national upheaval during the Civil War. Kansas was a free state. Missouri was a slave state. The "Jayhawkers", a band of hooligans from Kansas, would make periodic raids into western Missouri, burning towns and making mayhem. Missouri responded by sending William Quantrill and his raucous Bushwhackers into Lawrence (home of kU), burning it to a crisp.
Today, fires and raids have given way to helmets, shoulder pads, and brutal tackling. As these gridiron gladiators go at it on the field, fans from both sides will be screaming themselves to hoarseness as the bands play on with the fight songs to encourage their teams.
Sadly, tomorrow will likely be the last time Missouri will play its arch rival in this classic showdown. My Alma Mater, for reasons of money, has decided to leave the Big 12 Conference and will begin playing in the SEC next season. They'd been trying to join the Big 10, another Midwestern-based conference. But Michigan, Ohio State, Northwestern, Wisconsin.... they all refused to acknowledge the request. Or simply chose to look the other way. Meanwhile, the SEC was happy to include an institution with one of the premiere Journalism Schools in the nation... as well as a football team that could join Vanderbilt in the "homecoming guest" department. And so, beginning next year, Missouri will have a Border War with.... umm.... with....
That doesn't work for me.
In fact, most of this whole realignment business of the collegiate athletic conferences doesn't work for me. The Big 10 has twelve teams; The Big 12 this year had 10 teams. The PAC 12 (used to be PAC 10) includes former Big 12 school Colorado... a school that might be on the Pacific Coast in the event of global warming! Florida State has been in the Atlantic Coast Conference... even though it sits closer to the Gulf of Mexico. The whole thing is a stinking mess, and it is all about money, and television revenues. Not for the players, of course. They're chattel in this high stakes world of college sports. The universities make a mint off of them. And as legislatures continue to hack away at higher education, the need for revenue from the athletic programs becomes greater. What should be just a game is now all about the ca-ching of cash flow.
Lost in all of this are the rivalries such as Missouri vs. kansas. When kU heard that Missouri was going to bolt from the Big 12, the Ugly Bird school threw down the gauntlet: leave, and this rivalry match-up is over! Mizzou's response: we never liked you very much any way. So, see ya later and we'll play the Gators.
As an alumna, I am disappointed. The bitterness between the two schools and the two states has actually been fun. All Mizzou alums get a kick out of refusing to capitalize the "k" because we know that kansas is "Neither a proper noun nor a proper state!" In turn, the more Union-friendly fervor of kansans burns hot every time they proclaim that they've been "protecting America from Missouri since 1854!" And when I was a student in the late 80s, both schools had the same football cheer: "Oh, yeah?! Wait 'til basketball season!!"
I hope that both schools will come to their senses and realize that we are really talking about a game, and that these conferences have become so meaningless in their geographical alignment that to sacrifice a tradition that dates back to 1891 and draws the attention of alums and curious on-lookers alike is just plain stupid. Surely, one of the SEC foes will forgo a game against the Missouri Tigers to allow them to play the Ugly Birds. For those of us who went to these schools, the game against the rival might be the only one that could get us excited about the sport in question. I mean, no one at Mizzou ever gave up her tickets to football or basketball games against kU.
Guess that won't be an issue any more.