Thumb Wars: Does Cal need to play the L.A. schools?
Monday, August 2, 2010
Category: Sports > Fall > Football
Since 1936, only one thing has kept the Pac-10's California teams from playing each other every season: World War II.
Given the precedent, is it acceptable for the recent addition of Utah and Colorado change that?
Because the Pac-10 will be known as the Pac-12 by 2012 - and perhaps as soon as 2011 - it must restructure into two divisions to allow for a conference championship game, as the NCAA mandates for conferences of at least 12 teams.
With only nine regular season conference games, someone may not get their yearly visit to Tinseltown. This reality has sparked debate about division realignment.
A simple north-south split may leave Cal and Stanford stuck with the Northwest, away from UCLA and USC. A proposed "zipper" plan, which places local rivals in separate divisions, could be more palatable, but may leave the Bears with just one of the two match-ups.
Why so much lust for the Southland? The biggest reason at this point is its status as the West Coast's recruiting hotbed.
Of Rivals.com's top five recruits for the class of 2011, two reside in Los Angeles County. A fifth of Cal's current roster hails from Southern California.
Former Oregon coach and athletic director Mike Belotti said, "Playing in L.A. is important - it really, really is. Coaches who are saying it isn't are probably just saying that." You know he means business since he used "really" twice.
But even if the Bear's recruiting doesn't take a dent - the 2010 class did include high-profile recruits from North Carolina - there's still the tradition aspect.
I haven't even been alive for two full decades yet, so I can't even fathom how many memories seven-plus must contain for Cal fans of old.
I can, however, think about the precious moments still to come. Do you really want to miss the Lane Kiffin show?
My very first Cal football game was the thrilling 2002 Homecoming match-up against UCLA.
The Bears shut down the Bruins' high scoring attack, knocked their quarterback out of the game, and put together a clutch goal-line stand.
It was certainly a memorable introduction to the blue-and-gold experience.
But did I get any extra satisfaction out of beating our Southern California brethren as I rushed the field at Memorial Stadium?
That aspect never really crossed my mind.
Growing up as a Cal follower, I had one enemy and one enemy only: that certain junior college across the Bay.
My most memorable moment as a sports fan - and I'm probably not alone here - was Mike Mohamed's Big Game-clinching interception. (Booing Tiger Woods and launching his career into a tailspin is also up there, but I digress.)
Similarly, I don't know if I've been more distraught than when a potential game-tying touchdown passes slipped through Lavelle Hawkins' hands two years ago. The Bears forfeited the Axe for the first (and God willing, the only) time in the Tedford era.
Cal's duels with the SoCal schools simply don't compare; there's no amount of bragging rights, prizes, or wars over "hella" that equal what the Axe embodies. So if the Bears can't play UCLA and USC every year, you won't exactly see me mourning.
Honestly, I wouldn't mind taking a year off from the Bruins' mediocre usurpation of 'Big C.'
Nor would a break from USC's three-note monstrosity on every other play be such a bad thing.
And I certainly don't want to drive down - I'm not a frat caravan type of guy - to endure them in the sweltering Los Angeles heat.
There's only one day out of the year that I want to visit the Rose Bowl, and that's New Year's Day.
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