The college football rivalry is unlike any other in sports. Aside from professional rivalries that set the bar such as the Yankees and the Red Sox, rivalries among college football teams produce more passion and excitement the vast majority of sports. Which is exactly why North Texas (I can’t believe I’m saying this) got lucky when UTSA joined Conference USA in the same season as the Mean Green. The result of both teams joining was the beginning of an unexpected and somewhat odd rivalry.
Think for a second about what a college rivalry looks like. Fans painted with the colors of their alma mater? Players holding up a trophy that only has relevance to 2 cities? Art Markman of the Statesman had a really interesting article in which he detailed what a great college football rivalry consists of. Essentially, the three main ingredients to a rivalry are similarities between the programs, frequency in games, and evenly matched teams.
Switching back to North Texas and UTSA, all three of those boxes are checked in only year 4 of the program’s history against each other.
Both programs joined the conference in the same exact year and entered the same division.
Both are located in Texas.
Both typically have rather low expectations but somehow seem to perform best around the same time that the other is performing their best. That’s a check for the similarities.
As a conference match up, the game is played each season at rotating home fields. Check. Evenly matched teams? Since the 2013 season, North Texas is 18-26 and UTSA is 17-26. Looks to me like we’ve got ourselves a true rivalry.
So why does any of this matter? What exactly does a team gain from having a solid rival? First and most obvious is general excitement. Whether a team is 0-11 or 11-0, fans and players will get excited and look forward to playing their rival year after year.
Second, and possibly most important is attendance. It makes statistical and logical sense that a fan base will show up in greater numbers to a game against the team that they look forward to watching their team play year after year. There’s a huge amount of examples in power five conference rivalries, but for this sake, let’s look at a rivalry between two non-P5 teams.
Lehigh and Lafayette have a rivalry that dates back to 1884, they currently have more meetings against each other than any other 2 college football teams have. Apparently, these two programs really enjoy playing each other every year, and it shows in their attendance. Last season, Lehigh averaged 8,409 fans per game. However, in their game against Lafayette, they brought in a crowd of 15,921. Now I’m not a mathematics major, but that’s almost double their average game attendance.
North Texas had an average game attendance of 13,631 in 2015 which was over 6,000 less than the 2014 average due to having an awful season. Unfortunately, the rivalry attendance numbers have yet to come through for UNT and UTSA, as all of their matchups have resulted in average attendance in comparison to the rest of the season. However, this rivalry is only four years old and the true disdain has only recently begun.
In theory, UNT could be looking at an eventual sellout each year that they host UTSA if the rivalry continues in the direction that it is. Likewise, UTSA could easily see a considerable attendance increase when they host North Texas every other year. Considering both teams have stadiums that can use more people in the seats, that’s sort of a big deal.
The college football rivalry is a delicate balance. On one hand, two programs absolutely hate each other and spend weeks preparing to ruin an entire program’s hopes for the year. On the other hand, if one of the teams is not successful, the entire rivalry loses validity. As much as it pains us, we must wish the best for our rivals in order to benefit from our undying hatred of them.
I don’t like watching those Roadrunners try to pretend they belong on our field just as much as they probably hate seeing the Mean Green pretend that they are a Texas powerhouse. But for the sake of the rivalry and the North Texas program’s future success, I hope that UTSA continues to improve and wins more and more games. Just not this weekend.