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HOYT PURVIS: Ever-shifting rivalries

Competitive relations can be serious, frivolous by Hoyt Purvis | May 12, 2021 at 1:00 a.m.

Rivalries are characteristics of business, sports, politics and international relations among other significant segments of our society.

Rivalries can define the relationships that, in turn, provide the parameters or framework for conflict and competition -- as we have seen from the cola wars to the cold war -- sometimes deadly serious, other times a bit frivolous.

The term "rivalries" relates to competition for the same objective or for seeking superiority in the same field or arena.

Rivalries in many cases are long-standing -- a history within a history.

Let us begin with sports and acknowledge that certain pairings are true rivalries. Each of us might have our own favorites. My football list might include, among others, Alabama-Auburn, Michigan-Ohio State, Ole Miss-Mississippi State, Harvard-Yale, USC-Notre Dame and the Army-Navy game.

For a time, Arkansas vs. LSU (from the Southeastern Conference) was becoming a serious end-of-the season rivalry. However, LSU also has a roster of traditional opponents. And when Texas A&M entered the SEC, the Aggies wanted to have a major rival to please their fan base. So, Arkansas was left looking for a new rival/partner while LSU effectively became the rival foe for A&M.

SEC newbie Missouri was proximate and available. Arkansas and Mizzou are playing in an annual and officially promoted Battle Line Rivalry. Some question how long it might take to establish a true rivalry game.

And then there's Texas. When I was a college student, the rivalries that drew the most attention, in addition to Arkansas-Texas, were Texas-Oklahoma and Texas-Texas A&M. Of those three, only UT-OU football remains on a regular basis. Who would have thought that UT-AM football (for a century played on Thanksgiving Day) would come to an end? Those two teams moved to different conferences -- ending the historic rivalries in the Southwest Conference. Arkansas and Texas will play each other in nonconference football this September, but they no longer go against each other on a regular basis.

Although we have focused on collegiate football rivalries, we see rivalries well beyond and involving other team sports -- basketball and baseball in particular. And there are growing rivalries within women's sports as well, including soccer, which showcases teams from around the world.

The possibilities of UA vs. Arkansas State University stirs considerable interest. ASU supporters remind me of the comments I used to hear from my mother and others favoring competition between the state's two largest universities to the point when -- at long last -- their teams are scheduled to meet in varsity football competition, although not for four years.

We also have last night's baseball match-up between the U of A and ASU, as well as Razorback competition involving UALR, UA-Pine Bluff and the University of Central Arkansas on the horizon.

I grew up in a family in which sports were taken very seriously. Beginning in the 1950s, Arkansas developed an intensive rivalry with Texas. As a UT graduate and UA faculty member, I know a little about the Arkansas-Texas rivalry, which was at its peak at the time of the "Big Shootout" and "Game of the Century" in 1969.

My late mother lived almost all her life in Jonesboro, location of ASU. She was not a huge sports fan but was surrounded by many who were. She attended ASU (when it was still Arkansas State College). But the U of A had a strict "no play" policy, forbidding direct competition between the two schools. Longtime UA coach and legendary athletic director Frank Broyles believed Arkansas needed to do everything possible to strengthen the Razorback program to be nationally competitive. Playing Arkansas State might detract from that goal.

My mother used to say the day would come for Arkansas and ASU to meet on the gridiron, and it would build statewide interest. She would also say, "You don't make yourself larger by pushing others down or holding them back."

She was also a long-time Razorback fan, as was her husband -- my dad, a strong Razorback supporter and UA graduate, who also attended A-State. Interestingly, some of the most ardent Razorback fans I know are also Red Wolf rooters.

The U of A has consistently paid substantial guarantees to little-known out-of-state schools to play football against the Razorbacks. Mother would say the ban on playing ASU made no sense.

There are, of course, strong rivalries in major league sports -- the best known in MLB are Cardinals-Cubs and Yankees-Red Sox. The NBA brought Celtics vs. Lakers. NFL football has had Steelers-Ravens and Cowboys-Eagles, plus Broncos and Chiefs.

In our early national history, there was a fierce rivalry between Jefferson and Adams, feuding founding fathers. And Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote about Lincoln rising above political rivalries in "Team of Rivals."

In the foreign policy arena, we give considerable significance to rivals China, Russia, and the Iran wild card. And we see nationalism as a factor in international rivalries such as the World Cup.

Sports have been heavily influenced by the growing power of television as TV emphasizes rivalries and features teams, coaches and players influenced by the rivalry frame.

And, as of now, the first UA-ASU football game is set for 2025.

Do we have another rivalry in the making?

Hoyt Purvis is an emeritus professor of journalism and international relations at the University of Arkansas. Email him at [email protected].


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