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Battering tradition

Feb 17, 2012 - By Steven R. Peck

One of the pleasures for many Americans is developing a loyalty to a college sports team and following that team through the years as a fan. It's even better when there is a team close at hand that can generate some hometown, home-state or regional loyalty.

In Wyoming, that pretty much leaves one option -- the Wyoming Cowboys. Adding to the experience of college sports fandom is the development of some regional rivalries that help define the game and add meaning to the competition through the years.

Over the past decade or so, however, those time-honored loyalites are being tossed aside as college sports leagues suffer the equivalent of being ripped apart, chopped up in a blender, and doled out in new formulas that are nothing short of absurd.

The conference the University of Wyoming worked to form 14 years ago, the Mountain West, is about to undergo just such a slice-and-dice procedure for football, and the result will be all but unrecognizable to fans.

The MWC already lost two of Wyoming's great regional rivals last year, Utah and BYU. Recent additions Boise State and TCU are leaving as well. Never fear, however. The MWC is joining forces with Conference USA for a new football-only conference that will create some of the most unnatural conference "rivalries" imaginable. Fresno State vs. East Carolina. Nevada vs. Southern Mississippi. Wyoming at Alabama-Birmingham.

In Laramie, the Cowboys are putting the best face on it they can. University officials said the new arrangement will add "stability" to the program. It's troubling to see the Cowboy program buffeted by these bigger, richer forces. Perhaps this will be more stable, but it sure doesn't feel that way.

Exactly how often these long-distance games might happen is uncertain at the moment, but a regular-season conference championship seems likely between the winners of the east and west divisions of the still-unnamed alliance.

The MWC developments are illustrative of the larger trend. When a team from San Diego joins a conference called the Big East and plays most of its conference games 3,000 miles from home, one of the strongest underpinnings of college sports tradition -- the regional conference rivalry -- is being undone.

These days, however, the lure of television dollars trumps all else and, so, Boise State can call itself part of the Big East as well, while Gulf Coast stalwart Tulane is aligned with teams in the Rocky Mountains.

This is more than "out with the old and in with the new." It's more like "destroy everything in sight because we might get rich that way."

Most fans hate this senseless realignment of conferences and destruction of the geographical rivalries that sustain fan interest.

It's ridiculous, and everybody knows it.

But the powers that be, the ones who stand to make so much money off these preposterously contrived groupings, don't seem to care much for anything else. Everybody knows that too.

Go Pokes. Have a good season this fall, and you might just earn a shot in the title game of your "conference" against the mighty Central Florida Knights.

Aye-yi-yi. What are things coming to? At least there's still the Wyoming-CSU game ... for now.

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