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Why Can’t North Texas Teams Play Each Other Anymore?

Tonight is one of the nights I look forward to after a long off-season.

Tonight, Scott Cross’ UTA Mavericks finally begin their home season, kicking off UTA’s Homecoming celebration against the mighty, hated… Bulldogs of Samford.

Yeah, was this the game that had to get thrown in the last minute to replace the Lean Green chickening out? Not sure, but it’s a disappointing blow.

North Texas was supposed to come to the College Park Center for the first time this season. It was going to be the game that highlighted the non-conference schedule like Oklahoma coming to Arlington was last year. They’re not coming now. Second-year Mean Green coach Tony Benford cited the need for one more home game as the reason for the cancellation; no other game could be dropped to make room for it.

And the fact that the Mavericks have beaten the Green five of seven times since the rivalry was renewed had nothing to do with it, I’m sure.

On the flip side, TCU and SMU continued their series just a few days earlier, with the Mustangs beating the Frogs 69-61, amazingly at the American Airlines Center.

Of course, there was a time when this game meant more than just possibly Metroplex bragging rights – in all sports they took part in together.

There was a time when college sports meant something in Dallas-Fort Worth – maybe not as much at UTA, but definitely on the Fort Worth and University Park campuses. But their inability to be in the same conference since 2000 has wrecked the glory.

There’s little doubt the Southwest Conference’s breakup killed interest in college sports in DFW. It led to supposedly greater things for the campuses in Austin, Lubbuck and (finally) Waco, but the Metroplex’s teams have become afterthoughts as they spent years in conferences loaded with out-of-state opponents no one was interested in.

What is to blame for all this? Many still point to SMU’s football team getting the “death penalty” more than 25 years ago, turning it into an extremely toxic conference for recruits who didn’t want to play in a “dirty conference.” Yeah, because conferences and schools where teams give players illicit benefits is a turn-off – just like the University of Miami and more than half the SEC.

What’s likely more of a factor was the 1984 Supreme Court Ruling “NCAA v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma,” which firmly established that schools and conferences were free to negotiate their own television contracts outside the NCAA’s regulation. As a result, schools ever since have been looking for the bigger deal with the big network, or even starting their own network.

And the price paid for that? Conference and matchups the fans loved watching. The SWC breaking up to help form the Big 12 was just the beginning, as the Big East (now The American), SEC and Big Ten have begun poaching off teams left and right to make the next great superconference that will get them a Brinks truck from a network. And the fans have no choice but to settle for “new, great” conference matchups they have no interest in.

How would you like it if Jerry Jones suddenly decided the Cowboys needed to move to the AFC West? Or better yet, move into the Canadian League because they could actually win a championship there? Yeah, I know that’s a ludicrous idea. But so is West Virginia being in the same conference as Texas.

That’s what college fans have had to suffer. It’s not just the Texas-Texas A&M game that’s gone. Kansas no longer has Missouri or Nebraska on their schedules – despite them still being mentioned in their fight song.

And any complaints by the fans are met by condescending replies from administrators in the department saying “forget those old opponents. This is the best thing that’s going to happen to us.”

I know, because this carousel stopped and picked up UTA on the way.

I won’t stop saying I enjoyed playing in the Southland Conference. Being able to travel to the likes of Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston was a joy every year. Now, one year I had to get geared up for Utah State and San Jose State, the next – Troy and Georgia State.

UTA has two D1 opponents from Texas this season – only one in-conference, thanks to the likes of UNT and UTSA choosing Conference USA over trying to establish a true Texas mid-major conference.

People within UTA’s athletic department have kept telling me that this is for the best because they couldn’t hope to advance in such an inferior conference. But why is that a bother when UTA doesn’t play a sport that is dependent on news polls and power rankings to make the postseason? Every sport they play, you get in by winning whatever conference you’re in.

TCU finally got its wish to join the Big 12 with the likes of Texas, Tech and Baylor, but SMU’s teams still struggle to fit old SWC opponents each year into their non-conference schedule. Heck, Texas A&M is now gone away from in-state competition, trying to sell its fans that it’s so much better to be playing the likes of Auburn, Kentucky and Florida and not one single Texas opponent.

Aggies will try to puff out their chests and say they’re glad to be in the SEC. But behind that exterior I’m sure is sorrow that they can’t get hyped for Baylor, Tech or other opponents that have proximity and actual meaning to.

Will eventually we get to what the UIL does, re-aligning all conferences every few years and telling rivalries and long-time matchups to just go to hell to look forward to what’s all shiny and new?

It seems to be the way things are going. Charming stadiums built for rowdy fans are getting torn down for glitzy revenue-building facilities, just like classic movies are getting buried in Netflix’s vaults as they get re-made by wannabe directors.

College sports was built on proximity matchups, rivalries and bragging rights. But all of that, especially in the Metroplex, was long destroyed by school administrators who’s eyeballs were bigger than their stomachs.


Rowdy Rankings: College Basketball Venues

The lights have been turned off on college basketball games in North Texas for another year.

Technically, it happened a week ago, as all four teams in the area finished their home schedules. But now, as UTA, TCU and SMU move on to conference tournaments to try and keep their seasons going (UNT has since been bounced from the Sun Belt tournament), now might be a good time to give a grade and ranking on the college basketball facilities in the North Texas area. (I can’t say Metroplex in this case because sorry I just can’t see Denton as part of DFW. Do you know how freaking long it takes to get there?)

1. College Park Center
You can go ahead and call me biased on this one, but in 2012 UTA went from the worst facility in Texas Hall to the best. The College Park Center is like a smaller, more intimate version of the American Airlines Center, with even better sight lines than that aforementioned major venue. The only downside is whether or not the upper level was necessary, though the Mavs managed to pack the place twice this past season. While Texas Hall forced people to find seats where they could, usually within the 600 “backstage bleachers,” the CPC was made with room for everyone, giving the high-dollar alumni their cushioned court side seats while finally giving the students their own section along the baselines, allowing for the more realistic college atmosphere the school was long lacking.
Grade: A

2. Moody Coliseum
With a classic field house design that has a striking resemblance to the likes of Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium, Moody could have one of the best atmospheres in the country – if they could ever fill the place. It will be wait and see how the renovations that are about to begin will alter its atmosphere, as the changes it had previously made with the newer court and added room for more media, had reduced the amount of student space available. It probably has been ridiculed for things like the dark lighting and wooden bleachers lining the baseline, but a consistently winning SMU team that could pack the place would overshadow that.
Grade: B

3. Daniel Meyer Coliseum
It’s one of the circular-style venues that became en vogue about 30-40 years ago or so, and that already gets many points off as the shape pushes people away from more-up-close action. Other such venues, like UT’s Erwin Center, have worked to eliminate those problems. DMC has made some seating improvements over the years, but the students are still farther away than the previously mentioned buildings. At the very least, its 7,200 capacity may be just right for TCU; doubtful they could draw more than that even if the Horned Frogs were winning.
Grade: C

4. The Super Pit
It’s too big in addition to being another circular venue. With nearly 3,000 seats more than Daniel Meyer, it swallows up what atmosphere it could possibly have for sadly what is northern Texas’ closest thing to a college town in Denton. The students may be farthest away from the court action than any of the aforementioned places. Even though UNT may have had the most consistently winning team over the past few years, the area’s apathy toward college basketball means its chances of filling the Super Pit are slim to none. So any chance of a raucous atmosphere are eliminated among too many empty green seats each game.
Grade: D