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on Leading the Next Generation


Are College Rivalries Going Too Far?

If you know me at all, you know how much I love college sports. With football season about to launch and Growing Leaders working with over twenty NCAA athletic programs—I am in hog heaven. I love sports as much as anyone in our nation. Part of what makes them fun, is the rivalries that started as early as a century ago:

  • Alabama and Auburn
  • Ohio State and Michigan
  • Florida and Florida State
  • Georgia and Georgia Tech
  • Texas and Oklahoma…to name a few.

But I am wondering, now, if this new generation has lost sight of their place. I wonder if college rivalries have gone too far in the minds of some fans. Case in point: two historic oak trees in front of Auburn University were toilet-papered and poisoned, turning the leaves a weird, sickly yellow color. An Alabama fan named Harvey Updyke claimed credit for it. He wanted to incite the first clamor of rivalry in this new football season. What he ignited, however, was just the opposite.

Alabama fans were repulsed by this act, even though it was done on their rival’s campus. Why? They know how many folks drove up earlier this year to help Tuscaloosa citizens recover from the aftermath of a horrible tornado. In fact, Auburn fans launched a website that has raised $55,000, most of it aiding tornado victims in Tuscaloosa. Many folks from Auburn drove up and helped the victims dig through the rubble. It was an act of charity. So—what did Crimson Tide fans do in response to the tree poisoning? Five of them launched a “Tide for Toomers” Facebook page and began raising money for the trees. Five weeks later they presented a check for $50,000. Not bad for a rival.

It seems like some people are gaining perspective. One star linebacker for the Crimson Tide, Dont’a Hightower said, “Sometimes I’m just thinking…this is because of a football game?”

I love football rivalries as much as the next guy. They make the game extra fun when passion and talent join hands on the field. But I think we can lose perspective on what matters most.

Tell me if I am wrong. What role do rivalries play in college or pro sports?



  1. Brooke on September 2, 2011 at 7:47 am

    I think rivalries help to motivate teams!  They are important, but I agree with you Tim, that we have lost our focus as far as sports goes.  That goes for the little leaguers all the way up to the pros.  We need to get back to playing sports and quit all of the dramatics off the field!!

    • Tim Elmore on September 6, 2011 at 10:14 am

      So true – what we as parents and coaches teach in the little leagues will be amplified in the years ahead! While competition is important, we can’t forget to teach sportsmanship as well.

  2. Brittany on September 2, 2011 at 4:58 pm

    The model of college rivalries (and quite possibly the best and most historic) has got to be, in my opinion, Army-Navy.  Back in the day, both of these teams were national contenders. Times becoming what they are, it is not likely that either team will see anything beyond an occasional bowl game when it comes to football.  Nevertheless, every year, Army-Navy is hyped up by each school.  Sure, there are shenanigans, but nothing destructive to the extreme sense.  Cadets on exchange at Navy find their belongings moved outside, and Midshipmen on exchange at Navy might find their bunk moved to the roof.  Those same cadets and midshipmen are likely to brasso an “A” or an “N” onto some brass statue on either campus. And sometimes a mascot is kidnapped (but always returned unharmed).  Writing “Beat Navy” on an exam is always worth a couple of points.  The entire week before the game is packed with pep rallies and the air is full of motivation, enthusiasm, and push-ups (lots of push-ups). Cadets wear their camouflage uniforms instead of class uniforms because they’re “getting ready for war.”  Bonfires, huge team send-offs, elaborate spirit videos made by cadets, midshipmen, and service members across the globe are circulated on the internet and shown at the game.  The games starts with the march-on formations of both schools (with Army always clearly winning the unofficial best in drill…but I’m biased), and then it’s time for football. Both schools could have zero wins for the year, but it doesn’t matter.  Army-Navy is THE game of the year.  And as hard fought and intense of a rivalry that this is, at the end of the game BOTH teams pay respect to their opponent’s alma mater.  Disappointment persists for the team that lost, but respect is built as well.  For when they are not playing each other on the gridiron, these football players and student bodies are actually comrades in arms. They play under different team colors, but live (and are willing to die) under this nation’s flag.  When it’s all said and done with hats tossed in the air at graduation, it is “one team, one fight.”  McArthur said it well, “Upon the fields of friendly strife are sown the seeds that, upon other fields on other days will bear the fruits of victory.”  Football unites, inspires, and motivates the Corps of Cadets and Brigade of Midshipmen.  Such camaraderie and rivalry builds the bonds needed to effectively operate on real battlefields in the future. Army-Navy: I contend it’s  the purist of rivalries in the sport (across sports, but especially football) because the players want it more than any other game of the year and will give their all to win.  Yet, when it’s over, they know that they are ultimately on the same team with a shared mission of having the privilege (and burden) of leading America’s son’s and daughters into the most of dire of circumstances.  Maybe it is because each of these academies are seeking to develop and train leaders as a function of their organizational mission that honor, integrity, and duty persists throughout rivalry.  It is fierce competition, absolutely, but the clear focus and understanding that once the game is over, the same duty and sense of purpose persists for all involved, encourages unity beyond the rivalry.

    That said, the only proper way to end this comment is by saying, “GO ARMY! BEAT NAVY!” (please….it’s been too long!)

    • Tim Elmore on September 6, 2011 at 10:20 am

      WOW! Thanks for sharing a great example of rivalries done right! This shows the true purpose and positive impact that rivalries provide. This story should inspire us all to move past the “win at any cost” mentality that ultimately proves destructive to both sides.

  3. Clay Morgan on September 3, 2011 at 8:33 am

    As a Pitt man, I’ve lost the personal connection we once had ever since Joe Paterno took his lunch and went home, basically saying the Pitt-Penn State rivalry was over. The south seem’s to have the most nostalgic rivalries, but you are right in how it’s intensified. Love that you included the positive side of the story, but the damage in the first place is sad. Part of the problem has to be attributed to the need for shock value in all we do these days. Everything in the media and entertainment is about constantly finding a way to take things up a notch, surprise those who are never surprised. 

    • Tim Elmore on September 6, 2011 at 10:22 am

      That’s true – it does take more than ever to shock/attract attention. With that mentality, it’s easy to see how things could get out of hand quickly!

  4. Trent Thomas on September 3, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    I can think of multiple times that rivalry talk has opened the door for me to build some strong friendships (even with fans of the opposite team).  Unfortunately, sometimes people forget that this is all because of a game where we watch other people living their lives.  May we use these rivalries to engage in relationships with others, not just so we can shout at a screen or field on Saturdays!  
    Great post Tim!

    • Tim Elmore on September 6, 2011 at 10:24 am

      Great thoughts, Trent! Relationships should trump rivalries every time!

  5. Brad Simmons on September 7, 2011 at 9:53 am

    You’ve got your facts all wrong. Auburn fans toilet paper those trees after every win as a part of their tradition. The guy who poisoned the trees (but didn’t toilet paper them) was a Bama fan, and many Bama fans were outraged and started the “Tide for Toomers” group to raise money. However, all of that happened a month *before* the tornadoes hit Tuscaloosa and the rest of Alabama. Alabama fans’ outrage over the trees was because it was an outrageous act, not because of Auburn’s charity toward Tuscaloosa, though that was much appreciated later.

    • Tim Elmore on September 9, 2011 at 10:29 pm

      Totally agree, I think that’s what I said. By the way our research was from the Gannett News Service.

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Are College Rivalries Going Too Far?