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Viewpoint: "Rivalry" is a tricky word

“Rivalry” is a tricky word. It carries with it both positive and negative connotations, especially where college sports fans are concerned.

On one hand, a college rivalry is one of the more effective ways to unite a student body. Nothing is more unifying than a common enemy. Ohio State University feels a little bit more Ohio State when it’s playing Michigan. Any Army/Navy game, though neither is a true athletic powerhouse, brings with it 112 years of positive competitive history, and since neither school produces many professional athletes, it’s often the last time most of these students will play football.

But it’s the other hand that has the bruised knuckles. Rivalries often bring out the least savory 10 percent of a school’s population and give this faction a reason to commit dumb and often illegal actions in the name of simple school pride.

The Iron Bowl is annually played between the University of Alabama and Auburn University, two schools that are responsible for the last three BCS championships. These schools’ “fans” often go to ridiculous lengths to prove how much they love their school (at least, that might be how they wish it were presented, but their school pride more often manifests itself as hatred for the other institution). Harvey Updyke Jr., an Alabama fan, is currently facing felony charges for allegedly poisoning a group of cherished Auburn campus oak trees after Alabama’s football team lost the game.

Updyke, who named his children “Crimson Tyde” (after the school mascot) and “Bear Bryant” (after the legendary Alabama coach), typifies what is wrong with college sports rivalries. They can be ugly, they often have very real results, and they are rarely about sports.

Locally speaking, college rivalries bring out a lot of that same ugliness. Utah’s historic battle between the University of Utah and Brigham Young University, known nationally as “the Holy War,” has always been about more than just football. The unique nature of the state’s religious foundations often force a sort of North-South, good-evil spin on the game, with some fans seeing it as a clash of lifestyles and religious values.

Of course, real football fans know it should be, in fact, just about football, because both schools have developed successful and nationally competitive programs within the last decade. But this particular battle just becomes two quality institutions bad-mouthing each other.

But it’s that ugly 10 percent that rushes the field in a cloud of energy and alcohol after a win, taunts the opposing coach, then gets their innocent, competitive football team a penalty which almost costs them the game (this happened Saturday night in Salt Lake City). It’s that ugly 10 percent that publicly roasts an entire school’s fan base, calling them classless (Max Hall, BYU’s quarterback, did this in 2009).

Weber State University has admirably stayed out of the contrived ugliness of these rivalries. That isn’t to say the school doesn’t have them. WSU’s football team seems to be especially motivated when facing the University of Montana or Eastern Washington University.

In fact, this Saturday is WSU’s homecoming, and EWU is on the docket. Let’s hope our students can rise above the peripheral activities of silly rivalries and see the contest as simply a way to support the guys on the field, because that’s what a rivalry is supposed to be about.

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