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Pedley’s Ponderings

Resisting the rivalry

 

     This past weekend was surprisingly another good one in my sports world. The Hawkeye football team became bowl-eligible after beating Purdue, and the Detroit Lions knocked off Chicago to take sole possession of first place in NFC North. The results were quite a shock to me – I was positive both of my football teams were doomed to yet another season of mediocrity before the first kickoff this year.

     Nonetheless, Detroit's victory was even sweeter because it came against a longtime divisional rival. Iowa's win, on the other hand, was a little less impressive. Purdue is awful this year and pretty much gave up during the second half on Saturday. However, the game was technically a rivalry match-up, which might need a little explaining for those less versed in Big Ten Conference football history.

     For most of their existence, Iowa and Purdue played against one another as typical league opponents. The schools aren't close to one another, they weren't usually duking it out for a league championship at season's end, and there just simply wasn't much bad blood between the two.

     However, all that "changed" when Nebraska joined the conference in 2011.  The now 12-team Big Ten was split up into the Leaders and Legends division, which consequently disrupted some of the league's traditional rivalries. Michigan and Ohio State were in separate divisions, and the split also cancelled other big annual match-ups like Minnesota/Wisconsin and Iowa/Wisconsin.

     Big Ten officials attempted to remedy the situation by allowing each team one rivalry game against an opponent from the other division. Some were obvious – the Buckeyes and Wolverines got each other, while the Gophers and Badgers were promised a game every year as well. However, others were more head scratching. Iowa, who lost their cross-divisional rival to another locked match-up, was left out to dry and forced to look elsewhere. Thus, the Purdue/Iowa rivalry was born, and it's been "raging" ever since.

     Sportswriters and other pundits have jokingly referred to Purdue as Iowa's most hated rival since the two teams started playing under the rivalry moniker two years ago. Their backhanded criticism of the game seems warranted, as the match-up exemplifies the money-driven mentality that's gripped the Big Ten for the past few years.

     The conference now stands 14 members strong after the league added three new teams dating back to 2010. These moves have created larger TV markets for the conference, in turn driving up advertising revenue and boosting profits.

     The new additions have also created mandatory rivalry games within the conference, and it seems Big Ten officials are forcing the issue when they announce these things. Iowa and Nebraska play for a trophy, but it has nothing to do with football. The match-up is confusingly dubbed the "Heroes Game." Both teams honor local citizens from each state who've done something brave or extraordinary over the previous year. It's a nice tribute, but why exactly are these two teams playing for a trophy over it?

     Money, that's why.

     By slapping the rivalry label on the game, you can sell advertising at higher rates and trick people into thinking the match-up is more special than it actually is. This creates a false sense of exclusivity, and it's seen throughout the conference.

     Maryland and Rutgers will play a "rivalry" game each year once they join the Big Ten in 2014, which makes sense based on the schools' proximity to one another. However, I wish they'd let the schools build a little conference tradition and make the game interesting before they slap the rivalry sticker on it – it's not as important as they're making it out to be.

     As it stands now, Iowa played in five rivalry games this year – Iowa State, Minnesota, Purdue, Wisconsin and Nebraska. Four of those games have trophies, three of which are in-conference. Only one rivalry game remains on the Hawkeyes' schedule this year – Nebraska on Nov. 29. While I'm invested in the outcome, excuse me if my anti-Husker feelings are a little dulled come time for kickoff. I've already used up most of my hate on the other four teams.

     Nick Pedley is the regional news editor for the Hampton Chronicle, The Sheffield Press and Pioneer Enterprise.