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The Disruption of Georgia’s Rivalries During the 2010s and Beyond

Georgia’s rivalries have been cyclical in prioritization, but some rivalries have clearly fallen by the wayside.

With Clean, Old Fashioned Hate coming up this week, the concept of the rivalries that UGA has with other institutions is a topic worthy of consideration.  Georgia has rivalries defined by historic bouts on the gridiron during the turn of the 20th century.  History and Football play a large role in defining “the enemy”, but geography plays a large role too and it did for a century.  Border disputes and proximity created ill-will and the desire to defeat thy neighbor became important, but where you were defined your personal prioritization.  However, in a world where the UGA alumni base is more scattered than ever, student bodies are more geographically diverse, and technology encourages people to create, work, and play wherever they see fit, it forces us to re-evaluate rivalries.  UGA’s rivalries have changed to some extent and as much as Wikipedia wants to force the acknowledgment of a rivalry, it is not necessarily the case that it exists or that the majority want to acknowledge its existence.

Rivals as Status Symbols

Clout is a common term one would hear in Los Angeles among Generation Z and Millennials looking to advance in the entertainment industry.  It did not take too long for this concept to spread across the country much like the exiles of the State of California.  Simply put, clout is an accumulation of not necessarily financial net worth, but social net worth and ability to influence others.  People with clout have large followings that they are able to monetize and either have monetized or have not done so.  Clout is much like fame, but it can be more niched and the bar is much lower for being considered to have it.  A clout-chaser is someone who wants to attain clout or be associated with people with clout and are willing to do things to get clout.

What does clout have to do with rivalries?  In 2019, much more than you think.  Rivalries are acknowledgment of existence and importance.  To let a rival exist is a testament to some level of success or an association that matters.  If another school fielding athletic programs does not matter, is not at a level as an institution that is worthy of your own or holds little relevance, there is no rivalry.  Rivalries just do not happen out of the blue, there has to be something worthy to be disputed.

Would an individual wish to compare themselves to sexual predator?  Of course not.  How about a murderer?  Surely not.  What about someone with no respect for themselves?  The association diminishes the individual making the comparison.

Rivalries are aspirational in the 21st century, it is a way to say “these are my peers, I hate them, but I let them live rent-free in my mind.”

Everything is aspirational in an arguably decadent culture that may have lost sight of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  The biggest issue is that people have spurned their own safety and creating human relationships in favor of feeling good and faking prestige while pretending to self-actualize.  Technology does not replace real relationships and a regard for the safety of both oneself and others in one’s life.  It is why the Internet and more specifically, social media, has become a poison that is actively destroying lives.  There are no shortcuts, but the pursuit of attention, accomplishment, and recognition even when there is nothing truly virtuous is a massive problem.

Image result for maslow's hierarchy of needs

With this in mind, rivalries on the institutional level will change because they have shifted on a personal level.  It will lead to the condemnation and cancellation of rivalries.  New rivalries will be created because there is a social and/or financial benefit to having such a peer animosity.

The Georgia-Florida rivalry is the most natural of Georgia’s rivalries from a status perspective.  Two states with a massive population influx from the Northeast and Midwest, diversified economies, clear cultural divides between two halves of their state, and international recognition for their impact on the world’s economy.  The state flagship public universities should naturally forge a rivalry as border states.  The distinct differences in culture between the two are just spices added to a stew that has a wonderful base.  UGA’s ascension in reputation and UF being recognized for its institutional and academic success as a public university outside of the ghettos of the academic elite and new American nobility enhances and changes the dynamics of the rivalry from a broader perspective.

Georgia-Florida is also the best marketed and monetized rivalry, but given each base’s relative affluence compared to in-conference peers, there’s still room for a better partnership.  The cultures are different and the institutions may not have too much overlap historically, but it is a convenient relationship that is not cause for embarrassment.

Intertwined relationships between schools and common High Schools that attract a lot of students (not just student-athletes) on a regular basis helps shape rivalries.  Ole Miss and the University of Texas-Austin could loosely be considered rivals just the way Ole Miss and Texas A&M could, but both major public universities of the State of Texas do not acknowledge Ole Miss.  Ole Miss attracts a large number of students from the tony suburbs of Houston and the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, which are two of the largest bases of students for Texas and Texas A&M, but Ole Miss is considered a parasite that is sucking out talent that would have attended other schools in the State of Texas.  Ole Miss also has a reputation that does not enhance Texas A&M or Texas’ reputation because of a tumultuous past and a present status that is awkward.  As a state, the State of Mississippi is considered by many to be on the lowest rung in every conceivable category.  There’s nothing to gain from calling attention to Ole Miss’ popularity with out-of-state students.

Rivals as Family with Differences

Ole Miss’ relationship with the State of Texas is an important exception, but rivalries in 2019 require common bonds among those with a vested interest beyond gambling.  It starts in High School, it appears in local communities, and if there’s a large enough diaspora could form in pockets outside of the schools’ regional footprint.

Rivalries like Georgia-Auburn enjoy that intermixing as Auburn University is conveniently not too far away from the Georgia border and is roughly 90 minutes away from Atlanta, but more importantly can be an hour away from the suburbs.  Auburn’s relative distance to the Atlanta sprawl compared to Athens makes it an option.  There are distinct differences between the University of Georgia and Auburn University, which are often comically noted by students and alumni of both institutions.  Both institutions had similar reputations a generation ago and the motivation to attend one institution or another came down to familial ties, rooting interests, and the campus environment that made the most sense.

Today, the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry (arguably, the South’s Oldest Rivalry) has a very different dynamic and the differences between the institutions are more pronounced, but the decisions to attend either institution are less influenced by tradition and more influenced by practical concerns.  Like everything in 2019 and beyond, customization and finding the right fit matters.  Family and Football do not matter as much, but the suburbs of the City of Atlanta still matters a lot to both institutions.

What matters?

  • Professional aspirations:  UGA has an engineering program now, but Auburn has a wider array of engineering programs.  There are programs offered by Auburn and UGA that are unique to each school or are strengths of each school.  Auburn University is the most highly regarded university in the State of Alabama, but Auburn University and alumni of the institution have far better prospects in Atlanta than in the University of Alabama dominated, Birmingham.  Auburn University is arguably more respected outside of Alabama than inside of Alabama, it is like East Alabama is in a different world.
  • Cost of Attendance:  The State of Georgia’s HOPE Scholarship has tightened up considerably over the past two decades, it is far tougher to keep HOPE at the University of Georgia or Georgia Tech in any of the scholarship offering forms than in the past.  Tougher majors are attached to the possibility of lower GPAs, which could mean a higher of cost of attendance.  Auburn University offers extremely generous scholarships to compete for the same class of students and some take the more secure money than stay in-state.
  • Culture:  The concept of the Auburn Family appeals to some people and the more divergent culture of UGA appeals to others.  Crunchy college town with preppy notes vs. Casual college town with a small town feel.  Unity vs. Debate.  The differences go on, but while there are similarities in the talent pool and even competitive programs, the schools are very different.

The Georgia-Auburn rivalry is a historic rivalry, but it is more of a rivalry of familiarity and it has lasting power.  It is a special rivalry that has civility and given Auburn’s rivalry with the University of Alabama, it is much welcomed.  Nobody gets shot, permanent damage is never done, and terroristic activity is not associated with this rivalry.  It is not a clash of cultures and dominance.

The same cannot be said about the University of Tennessee-Knoxville (Tennessee).  What does the University of Georgia have in common with the University of Tennessee-Knoxville?  Not much.  Up on Rocky Top, the University of Tennessee-Knoxville has to fight for relevance in their own state, which has three distinct regional cultures and as a flagship struggles to attract from all regions.  West Tennessee is a very different world from East Tennessee and there are in-state and out-of-state options that just make more sense culturally, geographically, and even professionally.  Knoxville is a three hour trip from Atlanta and is too far separated from the Georgia border to make much of a difference.  Tennessee alumni are in Atlanta, but not to the extent that one would find Auburn alumni.

Tennessee alumni are also choosing to go to Nashville much like the Chicagoans fleeing the State of Illinois’ fiscal crisis.  Tennessee and Georgia have enjoyed classic Football and Basketball games in the past, but demographic shifts and the SEC changing scheduling has disrupted the relationship.  The rivalry is just not there anymore in Football and going forward, Tennessee will be just another game as it is right now with all the other sports.  The elimination of a second game between the two schools in Men’s College Basketball emphasizes that this series has shifted to becoming ordinary like facing Vanderbilt or Missouri.  At the core, these are two schools with a more limited history than advertised (especially compared to South Carolina) that are forced together by a conference to face each other every season and have failed to make a case that it matters beyond a debased Football game.  Relevancy, familiarity, and scheduling did not provide a strong enough case to justify a rivalry.

In-State Rivals with Different Missions

Clean, Old Fashioned Hate pits Georgia and Georgia Tech.  Has the rivalry diminished?  To an extent, yes, but every game matters.  Nationally, it is seen as a secondary rivalry that does not draw money for television networks.  Regionally, it is supposed to be a game that pits two schools with stereotypes and not-so-friendly attitudes of each other.  One school rips up turf on the opponent’s stadium and the other rips up hedges after a Football victory.  It is historically relevant and each school has traditions that are very much antagonistic in rhetoric or behavior.  However, there is a diminished nature to this rivalry that is a sign of progress and how the bases of each school adjust will ultimately dictate the future of this special rivalry.

  1. UGA and Georgia Tech students are nerds.  We’re all nerds now.
  2. UGA and Georgia Tech have student bodies that have less in common geographically.  UGA does a better job recruiting students from Middle and South Georgia than Georgia Tech.  Georgia Tech is doing a better job recruiting internationally and is more innovative with recruiting students online.
  3. Georgia Tech students and alumni being less interested in sports than UGA.

Success in athletics can be cyclical, but it should not destroy a rivalry.  Rivalries are forged in the desire to beat the other and the heightened accomplishment of doing so.  Georgia Tech whipped Georgia 73-40 in Women’s College Basketball on November 17, 2019.  Does this loss sting?  It should.

Where the Georgia Tech rivalry shines from the perspective of a UGA student or alum is that losses are not deemed acceptable.  It is shocking as if it is not supposed to happen.  Georgia Tech is not supposed to beat UGA, but they have done it in the past and logically they can do it in the future.  However, in UGA minds, this is unfathomable and it is part of the special dynamic between Georgia and Georgia Tech.  Big brother (UGA) is supposed to beat little brother (Georgia Tech).

The farmboy and nerd trope is dead, it may be revived on November 20 at 7 PM Eastern Time, but revisiting it denies the accomplishments of the past 20 years in Athens and by alumni around the world.

The Rivalries That Could Be, But Really Shouldn’t Be and Aren’t

Rivalries put butts in seats, eyes on the screen, and noise in the air.  However, just because people watch and care about a sporting event, it does not make a rivalry.  There may be room for a fourth major rival for UGA, but that time does not seem to be now or in the near-future.  Five schools of note may have claim to a rivalry with UGA, but the relationships and the concept of how both sides gain from the rivalry may be dubious.

Alabama

Georgia and Alabama are states that border each other and would seemingly have common bonds:

  1. Southeastern Conference membership.
  2. Heavy emphasis on Football.
  3. Political power players within their own state.
  4. Flagship Universities.
  5. Considered the law and business talent producers in their respective states.
  6. Traditional atmospheres.
  7. Currently interlinked Football staffs.
  8. Former Men’s Basketball recruiting rivals.
  9. Women’s Gymnastics rivalry cooled down significantly with Sarah Patterson and Suzanne Yoculan’s retirements.

Would these qualities combined make for rivalry between the University of Alabama and University of Georgia?  No.  If you ask non-alumni fans of Georgia, they would consider Alabama to be a peer and rival simply because of Football.  Ask an alum or student of UGA, you are likely to get a very different response and possibly massive offense taken, if they are faculty as well.  The University of Alabama and University of Georgia are very different institutions with different intentions.  The University of Alabama has sold themselves to the almighty dollar and has a notorious history, present, and likely future checkered in racism and corruption.  The University of Alabama has no qualms with their brand being soiled by ignorant individuals doing and saying extreme things in their name, there has been no response to condemn or quell this behavior by extreme elements.  They either like it or they like the money and just prefer to not draw a backlash over it, but there is enough of a backlash over outsiders gaining a foothold in the insular State of Alabama.

That foothold happens to be Football tickets and those outsiders are out-of-state students flooding Tuscaloosa with out-of-state tuition coupons fleeing their own fiscally irresponsible states with university systems that have either experienced social or financial upheaval.  The biggest beneficiary when the University of Missouri-Columbia had a racial episode was the University of Alabama as students from St. Louis took the out-of-state merit scholarship money and ran down to Tuscaloosa.  Illinois and New Jersey with fiscal crises of their own bled students from Chicagoland, South Jersey, and North Jersey.  All the University of Alabama had to do is make the experience of attending college in Tuscaloosa cheaper than the in-state alternatives.  Mission accomplished at the expense of academic reputation on the undergraduate level.

The University of Alabama’s relationship with the University of Georgia is limited and the relevance of such a “rivalry” will dissipate once Nick Saban chooses to end his run as Head Coach of the University of Alabama Football Team.  There’s not much else holding this up.

Clemson

Clemson’s relevance is tied to the school’s proximity to the University of Georgia, having a closer academic standing than many SEC institutions, an overwhelming Football culture, and a history of facing Georgia regularly in all sports.  History and current reality depict a relationship that is distant and the only regular meeting between the two schools is an annual home-and-home Baseball series.  Football games between Georgia and Clemson are infrequent, Men’s Basketball games are also infrequent, and the rest of the sports portfolio of each school lacks continuity in facing each other on a regular basis.  The fortunes of each of the two schools athletically do not hinge on each other in any way.

Clemson University has a large alumni base in Atlanta and Charlotte much like UGA, but there’s no active effort to make Clemson-Georgia a rivalry.  Rather, both schools are content to go their own way and if they run into each other then the meeting might be significant on that occasion.

It is not a rivalry anymore, unlike Tennessee, which was never a rivalry.  Clemson is no longer considered Georgia’s rival, it’s just a nearby school with a similar, but better executed mission than Auburn.

Ole Miss

Ole Miss may have intense bouts on the Basketball court against Georgia and even a burgeoning rivalry in Baseball, but it suffers from a few things that Clemson and Alabama have.

  • Infrequency of games.
  • Ole Miss does not provide UGA with anything to gain from the rivalry.
  • Both schools really do not acknowledge each other.

Oxford and Athens may have some common elements, but outside of a few exterior elements and Ole Miss poaching students who could not get into UGA, Ole Miss and UGA are just not rivals.  Enjoy the Men’s Basketball series as it has been very competitive in the past decade serving up thrillers, but this is not a rivalry.

Kentucky

From a Baseball, Women’s Gymnastics, Women’s Basketball, and possibly Men’s Basketball perspective, this could be a rivalry.  Tom Crean vs.  John Calipari holds a lot of intrigue and catches the attention of Big Blue Nation.  However, for Bulldog Nation it is simply a big game on the Men’s Basketball schedule and a jobber opponent on the Football schedule.  Kentucky can be a rival for Georgia, but it requires quite a bit of work on both ends to get there.  The University of Kentucky and the University of Georgia as institutions share little in common beyond a common conference.  The concept of “Catlanta” for a week in Mid-March is dead and the UGA alumni base is not large enough in Cincinnati, Louisville or Lexington to really create that familiarity sort of a vibe.

An association with the University of Kentucky is not scarring in any way, it just does not seem applicable at this time.  When comparing UGA-UK to the established three major rivals of the University of Georgia, it is not there due to the imbalances of success and prioritization.

A rivalry with the University of Kentucky can be possible in the future, but it is an unlikely rivalry to form.

South Carolina

This is the closest relationship to a rivalry that exists.  Should South Carolina be Georgia’s fourth rival?  On the South Carolina end, the rivalry exists as Georgia brings out the most intense feelings for the South Carolina base outside of Clemson.  On the Georgia end, South Carolina is perceived to be a less academically rigorous and more delusional version of Georgia Tech.  The majority of Bulldog Nation sees South Carolina as the equivalent of an annoying cousin who says that they have 100 Bitcoin and a girlfriend in another town who nobody has ever met.  South Carolina is relevant because they want to fill the void that Georgia Tech used to fill when the Yellow Jackets were in the SEC.

South Carolina much like Georgia Tech is located in a State Capital.  South Carolina also has a long, continuous history with Georgia in all sports unlike any program in the SEC not named Auburn or Florida.  It is a relationship in multiple sports, but there is very little historic crossover between the institutions outside of John LeConte and Will Muschamp.

South Carolina and Georgia alumni hold a special event in Augusta called “Border Bash” every year during the weekend before the Georgia-South Carolina Football game.  Special events like these do not take place with other schools.

The SEC wants a Georgia-South Carolina rivalry, how do we know this?  Georgia faces South Carolina twice every season in Men’s Basketball.  Georgia-South Carolina was not a significant series in Men’s Basketball when the rivalry was set up with the new scheduling and addition of Missouri and Texas A&M to the conference.  At the time of realignment, Georgia-Tennessee was far more relevant, but the choice was to pair Georgia and South Carolina together.

Georgia-South Carolina matters a lot to the players, especially on the South Carolina side, because many of them are from the State of Georgia.  To the students and alumni, it matters, but there’s a great deal of imbalance.  For Georgia, there are three other programs to hate far more and for South Carolina, the anti-Clemson intensity is so high.

Shared alumni hotspots include Augusta, Charlotte, Charleston, and the melting pot that is Atlanta.  It’s a relationship that needs to give the UGA side a greater reason to care and hate everything Garnet and Black.

It’s a rivalry if Bulldog Nation wants it.

The Future of Rivalries

The diaspora of alumni may dictate future rivalries.  Where clusters of UGA alumni settle and where the next generation of Dawgs emanates could be what is next in determining who the next rival may be.  A few possible rivals of the future that may seem unrelated, but could one day become relevant if administrators recognize the opportunity to generate revenue are:

  • Colorado
  • Maryland
  • Virginia
  • Virginia Tech
  • North Carolina
  • Florida State
  • Illinois
  • Texas

The State of UGA’s rivalries

UGA has three rivalries that should never die and fourth potential rivalry with South Carolina should the UGA base see greater relevance to recognizing the University of South Carolina as a rival institution.  The possible rivalry with the University of Tennessee fell apart and the rivalry with Clemson University was killed by both institutions.

Rivalries have ups and downs, but there’s a reason why the current three rivalries (Auburn, Georgia Tech, Florida) have staying power.  We need them just as much as they need us.  The programs keep each other relevant and the bases want to uphold the great history of these rivalries.  Otherwise, the programs and the conferences would have killed them like they did with Tennessee and Clemson.

 

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