The 2014 SEC schedule was released on Wednesday, and among the many surprises was a Thanksgiving Day showdown between Texas A&M and LSU.
Thanksgiving football is, obviously, not foreign to Americans. And even though the NFL is more famous for the concept, college football typically has a few participants too.
In 2013, Ole Miss and Mississippi State will play the Egg Bowl on November's fourth Thursday. Texas A&M itself, meanwhile, used to play Thanksgiving games with Texas all the time.
But pitting LSU vs. Texas A&M on Turkey Day somehow feels...off. It's a little hard to pinpoint, but something about it just doesn't feel right.
Actually, more than just something.
Manufactured vs. Organic Tradition
Forgive the curmudgeonly tone, but things these days are too artificial.
Reality shows are all scripted, and singers sing songs in someone else's voice. Now SEC commissioner Mike Slive wants his rivalries to follow the trend—to become something built in a lab instead of something borne out of merit.
Traditional SEC rivalries took another shot when the 2014 schedule was released, pitting Florida and Tennessee against each other in Week 6. The Gators and Vols have opened conference play against each other every year since 2001, when the game was forced back because of the attacks of September 11th.
It's the first time they haven't been scheduled to open the season together since 1991, making it a longstanding and organic tradition that these days is difficult to find.
LSU is a program that's risen, and Texas A&M is a program on the rise. Their campuses are 350 miles apart, and their fans are notoriously manic. They fight over the same recruits every year and will continue to do so in the future.
It makes sense for Slive to want them as rivals.
But forcing it to happen instead of letting it happen feels dirty and wrong. It feels like breeding animals in captivity—like spraying a cage with pheromones, putting two gorillas together and waiting for them to mate.
College football needs new rivalries like the Amazon needs new silverbacks, but unlike the latter, the former will come in time. Putting two teams in the spotlight and waiting for them to hit it off is trying too hard.
A Frankenstein rivalry can never be as strong as a real one, especially since the advent of this one means the end, potentially, of LSU's with Arkansas (which used to play the Tigers on Thanksgiving).
SEC Trying to be[at] the NFL
The SEC has found no real competition among the college ranks, winning seven straight national championships and dominating non-conference play. So now, just like with A&M and LSU, the league wants to manufacture itself a rival.
Here's the problem: No matter how big and bad the SEC has been this past decade, it's not (nor will it ever be) the NFL. It's not even close. And going head-to-head with America's top-rated sport—by a lot—shows more than just audacity from Mr. Slive.
It shows remarkable conceit.
Thanksgiving is the NFL's day. The tradition of eating too much, drinking too much, ambling onto the couch, then watching Detroit get killed is ingrained into every American home. Why should the SEC be bold enough to infringe?
It's one thing to make people miss the Egg Bowl. No offense, Mississippi readers, but that in-state rivalry—while certainly important to those involved—holds little national import. A fan of both NFL and SEC football would have few qualms missing it to watch the pros.
But LSU vs. Texas A&M will, most likely, be one of next year's biggest games. It's a game with genuine weight and consequence. It forces fans of both leagues to make a choice, to decide between the SEC and NFL. That's a choice no one wants to make.
And that's just for people who care deeply about both. The normal college football fan, one with no SEC ties, might not stress much over his decision. The NFL isn't Notre Dame or Texas; the SEC can't just roll into competition and crush it.
What's more, since this year's Thanksgiving Egg Bowl is a night game, it's fair to assume the LSU vs. A&M game would be too. Including this season, the NFL's last three Thanksgiving night games will have included the:
- Baltimore Ravens (twice)
- Pittsburgh Steelers
- New England Patriots
- New York Jets
- San Francisco 49ers
This won't be a Jaguars-Dolphins game the SEC is going up against; it'll be two of the NFL's powerhouse, big-money, public-supported teams. The conference would be writing a check its viewership can't cash.
Slive wants to drink the NFL's milkshake, but he wasn't paying close enough attention during There Will be Blood. Roger Goodell is Daniel Plainview.