Everyone knows that just one year ago, Appalachian State beat Michigan at home in one of the greatest college football upsets of all time. There were a lot of storylines that came out of that game, but the one I want to point to now hasn’t been talked about much. That story is how overjoyed the rest of the Big 10 was that Michigan lost.
If you go on YouTube, you can see the shaky, homemade videos of people watching the final moments of that game. Videos of thousands of fans cramming into the bowels of the Horseshoe, or standing on pillars in Beaver Stadium to get a glimpse of a TV screen showing the last plays. You don’t even need to be able to see the final blocked field goal to know when it happens – the crowds explode in cheers and go berserk , chanting “thank you” to the Mountaineers and “overrated” to the Wolverines. Fast forward to the end of last season and the beginning of this one. At both the National Championship game and this season’s opener in the Georgia Dome, LSU and Alabama fans brought out the “S-E-C” chants after thrashing their opponents. Two very different reactions that bring up the question: How acceptable is it to cheer for your conference rivals?
Some die hard fans would say never. As an Ohio State fan, you always root against Michigan, no matter what. Their loss is your win, and anything that negatively effects them is good for you. That loss to Appalachian State was like Christmas in September. But thinking about it from a different angle, their loss also brought down the conference as a whole, which was bad for the Buckeyes. So when Michigan wins it is good for the conference and thus also good for Ohio State. Both viewpoints are based on love, but they’re distinctly different.
Love for your team can be seen as deep, while love for your conference can be seen as wide. Your love can be somewhere in the middle but it can’t be both. Your love for Texas can’t be deep unless you always root against Oklahoma and Texas A&M. At the same time, your love for the Big 12 can’t be wide unless you always cheer for Oklahoma and Texas A&M when they play non-conf games.
So what does it say about the Big 10 teams that rooted against Ohio State? It just means that they have more school pride than conference pride. And the SEC teams? It shows that right now they have more conference pride than school pride. That makes perfect sense, considering the fact that most people wouldn’t argue that the SEC has been the strongest conference the last few years. It’s a no-brainer to cheer for your conference when you’ve won the last two national championships and have the highest out-of-conference winning percentage. So where does that leave the other conferences? Well, they’ve always got their school pride to show, which is easy if you win your conference or finish in the Top 25 consistently.
So the next time you’re watching a big game that’s a matchup between one of your conference rivals and a non-conf foe, try to gauge where your love is. If you want your rival to win, you’ve got the love for your conference, but if you want them to lose, you’re putting your team first. Either one is perfectly acceptable – but you can’t have it both ways.