Monday, November 19, 2012

Tradition... Tradition?

Full Disclosure: I am currently a freshman at the University of Maryland. 

"Tradition" is a word that is bandied about in sports all the time, especially when dealing with college sports. This explicit narrative has been thrown out during the conference re-alignment madness that has been going on for nearly 3 years now, and it always seems to end with, "Tradition is dead". The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines tradition as, "an inherited, established, or customary practice of thought, action or behavior (as a religious practice or social custom)" and "a belief... relating to the past that is commonly accepted as historical though non-verifiable". That last part should strike a chord with the dis-illusioned amongst the college sports landscape. Are these "traditions" that have been going on for years just beliefs or customs that feel real, but are just mirages?

Look to the University of Maryland, which just jumped ship from the ACC, of which it was a founding member back in 1953, to go to the Big 10. Like many of the other schools that changed conferences since 2010, Maryland had some good reasons to change conferences. The big reason was of course, money. But, this is different from schools like Texas A&M, West Virginia, and others who just wanted to stuff their coffers a bit more. This past July, Maryland cut 7 varsity athletic programs because they didn't have the money to sustain those programs. Compile that with high paying contracts to Randy Edsall and Mark Turgeon, and empty seats in a newly expanded Byrd Stadium, the athletic department was beginning to bleed red ink. In order to assure its survival, the Big 10 comes calling with a lucrative TV rights contract, plus a conference TV network with immense revenue, to save the Maryland athletic department from itself. The academic advantages of switching conferences don't hurt either. So in every respect, this is a money move from the Maryland Regents. They are not the ones (mostly) though, lamenting the loss of 60 years of "tradition" in the ACC. My question is, what tradition?

Maryland doesn't really have rivals in an Ohio State-Michigan sense, or better yet, a Duke-UNC sense. Maryland fans might see Duke as a rival in basketball, but whether the feelings are mutual is highly doubtful. Maryland in the ACC might have made sense in 1953, when ideologies between UMD and North Carolina schools were better lined up, but since they aren't anymore, the ACC has become a Carolina-centric conference while Maryland lies on the outside. And ask a Terp fan about a football rival, and you'll get solely awkward silence. This is not of Maryland's own volition, but a by-product of what has happened in the histories of these athletic programs in the ACC. When Maryland's program was in a down time, the other NC schools were up, and when UNC was down in the early 2000's, Maryland filled the void temporarily. That has switched since then. The "tradition" of Duke-Maryland doesn't really exist on one side of the coin, so does that mean the claim to "tradition" was non-verifiable? Maryland's "tradition" was built in the ACC, but when times change, so do practices and beliefs. Holding onto old beliefs is what gets people in trouble, and is why those who don't adapt with the times often get left out in the cold.

Even though schools like Texas A&M, Nebraska, and West Virginia left "traditions" in their old conferences, they will create new ones because times dictated they had to. Just blindly claiming "tradition" is a reason to avoid change when it is needed is why history often repeats itself, and just look to any history textbook to see that in action. Sports are no exception to this principle. College sports have the most "traditions" of any major player on the American sports scene, but sometimes those have to fade to black in order for advancement. Every time a major school changes conference affiliation, those steadfast to "tradition" lament the death of "traditions", yet over time, new ones develop and those people adapt with the times just like the school. Penn State did it, Arkansas did it, South Carolina did it, and so did many others. Some will even argue they had more "tradition" than other schools who bolted for other conferences. The point is, when old "traditions" die, new ones are born from them, and holding to those old "traditions" to death is not the way to look at the world when it is constantly changing.

If traditions are in fact, "beliefs... relating to the past commonly accepted as historical though non-verifiable", then college sports "traditions" are the epitome of that. Some stand the test of time, while others understandably die off. If another school jumps conferences and "traditions" die, remember that old beliefs and practices don't always stand the test of time, as well they shouldn't.

Humans are the most adaptive species on the planet Earth. Why can't one of their creations be the same?

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