It seems incomprehensible, irresponsible, cowardly and downright party-pooperish that the University of Miami and University of Florida football teams will cease their rivalry after Saturday’s noon showdown.
But it’s true. After 53 regular season meetings dating back to 1938, the Hurricanes and Gators will play no more. There is no resumption date. There is no conversation about a resumption date.
The fact that two great programs representing the Pigskin Peninsula cannot find common ground and sustain a historic series says plenty about the ranking-obsessed state of college football.
Non-conference schedules of major teams resemble modern-day Roman Colosseum spectacles, during which the lions devour cupcakes. Half the games on Saturday’s national slate are — on paper, at least — sacrificial blowouts.
If Miami and Florida don’t play each other, they are ducking each other. But it’s so acceptable for the sake of protecting poll position that school athletic administrators aren’t even ashamed.
Enjoy the last foreseeable hurrah at Sun Life Stadium, where, despite the early hour, intense tailhating will crackle through the parking lots. The hostility between UM and UF fans is quite distinct from that between UM and Florida State fans.
The most ardent “It’s a Cane Thing” fanatics never wanted to slap Bobby Bowden. Particularly after all those missed field goals, UM fans might have managed to pat him on the shoulder, dadgummit. UM-FSU is an intrastate rivalry heated by mutual respect.
But Steve Spurrier’s hyena grin caused blood pressure spikes. And the Urban Meyer/Tim Tebow era of better-than-thou, when UM was down in the dumps, was excruciating for Hurricane loyalists.
Flipside for Gator fans came during Miami’s glory years, when UM beat UF five times in a row starting in 1986, had its run of titles and dominated the NFL Draft.
Howard Schnellenberger is fond of using a specific term to describe Gator diehards: Obnoxious. He’s always thought UF ducked his UM teams, and he’s primed to feel the hatred flow on Saturday.
UM-UF is an Ali-Frazier rivalry, a mudslinging politicians’ rivalry. No love lost.
All the more reason to keep it boiling. It provides TV exposure, ups the recruiting stakes, and bestows UM with a rare home sellout.
But Florida doesn’t need the Miami game, which has no practical upside. UF has the leverage at this moment. UF is ranked No. 10 in the AP poll; UM is unranked, coming off 6-6 and 7-5 seasons and still under the NCAA cloud. UF plays in the uber SEC; UM plays in the mediocre ACC.
UF must play eight SEC games, and that could rise to nine next year. UF ended the annual game against UM after the 1987 season, when the SEC mandated seven conference games. UF plays Georgia every season at neutral-site Jacksonville and has to play Florida State every season in a home-and-home series because it’s required by state law.
Florida also doesn’t need to worry about selling out in Gainesville with a brand-name opponent. The Swamp is always full.
Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley said the only place he’d consider meeting Miami in the future is at a neutral site, but it’s hard to think of a stadium in the state in which Gator fans would not heavily outnumber UM fans.
To save the rivalry and increase scheduling flexibility, UM advocated playing the game once every four years, but the plan was never implemented, and the schools are now left with the end of a two-game, home-and-home deal that started in 2008 in Gainesville.
On Friday night, the two best high school football teams in the country will play. They’re both from Miami. Undefeated Central and Booker T. Washington, ranked No. 1 in different polls, aren’t ducking each other.
“They are not afraid to schedule anybody,” UM coach Al Golden said, sounding wishful.
The collegiate Big Three of Miami, Florida and Florida State should play each other every year. Fans and players want it and ought to demand it. In the boom and bust state of Florida, football is its biggest asset.