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Do inter-league challenges mean anything?

Nov 29, 2012, 3:00 PM EDT

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I’m not going to play coy and ask why we have these inter-league challenge series. It’s about money and television rights like everything else we have in college sports these days. For me, that ship of disillusionment sailed years ago.

But we, as consumers, have bought into the spectacle, providing the impetus for the TV and the money.

Do we honestly still care? Does an inter-league challenge mean anything any more?

There was a lot of cachet to the ACC/Big Ten challenge and the SEC/Big East invitational when they first started to appear on the schedule a few years back. These were long-established leagues with regional character. The basketball played by a conference like the Big Ten could be said to have a certain flavor, as could that played by the ACC. That began to erode even when the ACC brought in teams like Miami and Virginia Tech from one of the old-school Big East raids, but it will make even less sense when Maryland jumps to the Big Ten and the ACC brings in Syracuse, Pitt and Louisville. Quite aside from the fact that the Big East won’t be an appealing dance partner for the SEC any more, there’s hardly any bragging rights at stake with such a motley assemblage of league-hoppers in a new, passionless marriage.

At least the Big 12 and (then) Pac-10 canceled their series in 2011, sparing us the cognitive dissonance of watching a West Virginia/Colorado pairing this season.

These new leagues will be like seasons of The Real World or Big Brother. A bunch of cocky strangers chosen by a committee and thrown into a fancy house, with cameras trained on them in hopes they’ll do something interesting.

Athletic leagues are now little more than well-marketed corporations. Yamaha makes snowmobiles, semiconductors, stereo receivers, grand pianos and archery equipment. None of those things have anything to do with one another in the real world, other than the fact that the same company puts them in boxes, stamps a logo on them, and trades them for consumer dollars. There’s no meaning to their association beyond that. Sound familiar?

Will Maryland play Pitt in an upcoming ACC/Big Ten challenge? That would be like me asking neighbors from down the street to play flag football in my yard, and then declaring my family the winner because it was played on my grass.

I’d wager I love college basketball more than the next 1,000 people I’ll speak to (fellow CBT writers excluded), but conference pride is starting to feel hollow, meaningless and self-deluding. SEC fans crowed about the possibility of an all-SEC national title game in football this year (before that possibility faded), but would they have been so happy if it had been Mizzou vs. Texas A&M? or was the notion enticing because it was “old school” SEC teams in contention?  

I’ll continue to root for my favorite laundry (as Jerry Seinfeld pointedly tagged sports fandom) but I can’t bring myself to care much which stainless steel industrial washing machine it ends up in.

Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor. He tweets @stfhoops.

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