Could conference expansion ever jeopardize USC-Clemson football rivalry?
CLEMSON -- After several storied rivalries became casualties of college football's widespread realignment shifts earlier this year, a South Carolina state lawmaker received a call from a concerned citizen and football fan who asked him if any laws existed mandating the Clemson-South Carolina game be played?
Rep. Nathan Ballentine, R-Chapin, could find no such legistation.
Ballentine, a South Carolina graduate, wondered if longtime rivalry games like Texas-Texas A&M and Oklahoma-Nebraska could become victims of scheduling conflicts created by conference expansion, could South Carolina's own big in-state game also be threatened?
Ballentine crafted a bill requiring the rivalry game to be played by state law, and presented it Wednesday. The bill was defeated in subcommittee and the legislation was also opposed by Clemson and South Carolina officials who said they could not foresee the game being threatened.
"I'm wondering what other conferences and universities didn't think things would happen down the road, and they ended up being reactive," Ballentine told The Post and Courier after his bill was rejected. "I just believe elected officials need to try to be proactive and look down the road. You never know what tomorrow is going to bring. But, I think we can all agree that conferences are going to continue to grow and expand and I think they are going to try to call the shots."
The Palmetto State's rivalry game has been threatened before.
In 1951, the Southern Conference placed then-members Clemson and Maryland on a year's suspension for accepting then-forbidden bowl invitations. The conference banned the two schools from playing league games in 1952, including Clemson's Big Thursday game with USC. It was only played after the general assembly drafted a law requiring both schools to play each other that year. South Carolina and Clemson left the SoCon to join the newly formed ACC in 1953.
"I'm sure back in the '40s and '50s, people were saying 'I can't ever see us not playing this game,' and then all of asudden the conference came in and was trying to dictate they wouldn't play that game," Ballentine said.
The ACC announced last week it will increase the football conference schedule from eight games to nine when Syracuse and Pittsburgh enter the league. That means non-conference games will be cut from four to three. Clemson has scheduled four non-conference games for 2014, including USC.
Many analysts see a day when there are multiple 16-team leagues, further limiting non-conference schedules.
Still, USC athletic director Eric Hyman said he could not imagine the USC-Clemson game not being played.
"I wouldn't want to live in the state and do away with that series," said Hyman. "I wouldn't want to be the AD at South Carolina and say, 'We're not going to play Clemson.' I'm sure Terry Don would feel the same way."
Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips opposed the bill.
"Clemson would prefer to not have to legislate this issue as I cannot conceive of a realistic scenario that would prohibit Clemson and South Carolina from continuing our football series," Phillips said.
Could conflicts at least cause the game to be moved from its current place on the schedule?
"Traditionally, right now, it's at the end of the season, and I would be surprised if that ever changed," Hyman said. "I think our fans prefer it at the end of the year in that traditional spot that we currently play."