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Nearly a decade has passed since the most dramatic conference restructuring in the history of the NCAA — a time during which concern as it related to maintaining the tradition and the pageantry that differentiate college football was palpable among many of us.
But we can now also admit that widespread league expansion turned out much more palatable than we’d collectively anticipated.
The college football world, as we know it, did not implode. The landscape did not chasm into four lore-less pseudo regionals — nor does it appear that such a scenario is imminent. The Big 12 did not cease to exist. Instead, the argument can be made, that the league has flourished, in spite of offensive defense.
Admittedly, my original opposition was fueled, in large part, by stark traditionalism. Naiveté? Sure, I guess. Resisting change, in any arena, is a futile campaign. The leaves will always turn, a wave of reds and yellows, indifferent to a person’s preference for warmth.
For me, as it pertains to the hallowed sport of football – and, particularly, the collegiate version – warmth can best be described as Switzer vs. Osborne, Aggies and Longhorns on Thanksgiving day, and a Southeastern Conference comprised only of institutions located south of the Mason-Dixon line.
All were compromised by the pursuit of excess.
But in the dead of winter, the sunshine provides the promise of spring – and with it, the return of a warm breeze from summers past that once seemed so far away. Oklahoma-Nebraska will be restored, at least in part, in 2021. Similarly, multiple reports have recently surfaced that lend optimism with regards to the return of the Lonestar Showdown.
As for the cultural, geographical discernment that led Missouri to the SEC, well, as it turns out, watching an utterly delusional fan base squirm as it is inundated by weekly reality checks offers inherent entertainment value.
Suffice it to say, Middle America’s conference hasn’t missed the Tigers, nor has it missed Colorado. Nebraska fits right in with the Big Ten, and they haven’t been your father’s Cornhuskers since Eric Crouch won the Heisman.
Meanwhile, Texas A&M has adapted favorably to its new league, and vice versa, serving as a natural rival for division-mate, Arkansas.
In other words, college football is still college football. All is well. But never is the sport so romantic as when the Sooners and Longhorns meet beneath Big Tex.
There is no setting in college football quite like it.
Ohio State–Michigan may be bigger; it may not be. But the spectacle of the Red River Rivalry is unmatched. It is the essence of college football at its pinnacle.
Most games are just that – one game. This isn’t that. This is three straight days of crimson versus orange, the invasion of one of our country’s largest cities, a score to be settled in a neutral setting – a good ‘ole fashioned western shootout at high noon.
Twelve months of angst is decided in four quarters – 60 minutes for 365 days.
Thursday night is a celebration. Friday night is, too. But you had better sleep in on Friday morning, because you won’t find shut-eye again until Saturday afternoon.
I understand the reasoning behind the noon eastern kickoff, the national broadcast, yada, yada. But I’ve always wondered if the powers that be don’t simply enjoy the social experiment involved with pulling fans out of beds that we no more found our way to, only to usher us away to the most intense sporting environment known to man.
No matter, the Cotton Bowl brings out the best in us all. A river runs through it, so to speak, a boundary between territories and teams. Divided, a sea of burnt orange abruptly turns to crimson and creme; half in ecstasy, half in despair.
The passion fueling the rush of adrenaline that carries each through this day is one handed down from generation to generation. From Barry and Daryl to Bob and Mack. From grandfathers, to fathers, to sons and daughters.
OU-Texas is a rite of fall. Nothing else matters on the second Saturday in October. There is a rank to maintain, a guard to reclaim. It’s the Red River.
Let it flow.