College Sports' Old Rivalries Succumb To New Money There are just two weeks until Selection Sunday, the day the teams and seeds of the NCAA basketball tournament are announced. By then, three pairs of age-old rivals will have squared off in what may be their last games ever.
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College Sports' Old Rivalries Succumb To New Money

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College Sports' Old Rivalries Succumb To New Money

College Sports' Old Rivalries Succumb To New Money

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Yesterday afternoon, the University of Kansas men's basketball team staged a dramatic comeback to defeat the Missouri Tigers, 87 to 86.


RAZ: Never mind the exciting finish. This may the last time these two longtime rivals will ever meet. And it's not only feud ending this season. College sports has now bid farewell to three of its very oldest rivalries.

NPR's Becky Sullivan has the story.

BECKY SULLIVAN, BYLINE: The pairs West Virginia and Pittsburgh, Texas and Texas A&M, and Kansas and Missouri have all played each other over a hundred times in football - and way more than that in men's basketball. The intensity that comes with that kind of history cannot be understated.


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: ...Kansas Jayhawks...


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: And your Missouri Tigers!


SULLIVAN: These three rivalries are so passionate that five years ago, it was impossible to see their breakups coming.

The Border War between Kansas and Missouri has its roots in what was, quite literally, a border war over slavery in the 1850s. And the two schools started battling in sports back in 1891. Texas and Texas A&M have faced off 118 times in football - over half of them the iconic Thanksgiving Day showdown.

And take the feud between the universities of West Virginia and Pittsburgh, the Backyard Brawl. The two teams, who both wear shades of blue and gold, have played each other since 1895, and West Virginia alum Jason Keal isn't happy it's ending. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: Jason's last name is Neal.]

JASON NEAL: I dread the day when we aren't looking across the way and seeing those players and fans, dressed in the other gold and blue. I dread that day.

SULLIVAN: He and dozens of other West Virginia fans were watching the 184th edition of the Backyard Brawl at Ragtime sports bar in Arlington, Virginia.

So why are all these rivalries ending?

FRAN FRASCHILLA: We're at a crossroads in college athletics, where the almighty dollar rules the day.

SULLIVAN: That's Fran Fraschilla, a college basketball analyst for ESPN. He says that TV networks, like ESPN and CBS, are one of the biggest factors behind conference realignment. Here's how it works: Some conferences, like the Southeastern Conference, are really good at football, so they command more lucrative TV contracts - which, in turn, means more money for its members. Again, Fran Fraschilla.

FRASCHILLA: You want to be able to have a good seat in a good conference. And because some conferences generate so much revenue, schools are making decisions primarily based on financial implications.

SULLIVAN: In the case of these three rivalries, the schools moving away are Texas A&M, Missouri, and both West Virginia and Pittsburgh. And though that may mean a few million more bucks for those athletic departments, Fraschilla says it's done permanent damage to the culture of college sports.

FRASCHILLA: There's going to be a certain flavor missing because we're not going to see some of these storied rivalries anymore.

SULLIVAN: Look at it this way: Next season, instead of the traditional Turkey Day football game between Texas and Texas A&M, the Longhorns settled for the Horned Frogs of TCU. Safe to say, that matchup won't have the same luster. And it's tough to say who will become Missouri's SEC rival.

Back at Ragtime, I ask Jason Keal if West Virginia might find a new rival, but his answer was firm.

NEAL: No. No. There's only one Pitt.

SULLIVAN: It's easy to understand why the universities are leaving each other, he says, but it's still very disappointing to see the rivalries let go.

NEAL: We deserve to say, who's better than you? I want the bragging rights, you want the bragging rights - let's play the game.

SULLIVAN: For the Backyard Brawl, at least, it's very likely. But for Kansas and Missouri - well, let's just say the bad blood runs a little too deep. Kansas coach Bill Self didn't mince words after the team's first matchup this season.

BILL SELF: I don't feel bad. Missouri wanted this, so why should I feel bad? I don't feel bad for anybody.

SULLIVAN: And yesterday afternoon, the final buzzer sounded on the Border War. And with the conference title on the line, they saved the best for last.


SULLIVAN: There's a chance the two will face each other in post-season tournaments to come - but never again as conference rivals, never again on their home courts; never again like this.



SULLIVAN: For NPR News, I'm Becky Sullivan.


RAZ: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News.

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