Tampa IV: Conference Cheering
I went to a bar to watch TCU-Michigan yesterday with my wife and two of our boys. Watched parts of Ohio State-Georgia as well back at the hotel, but I fell asleep well before it ended. Apparently I'm allergic to Florida because my eyes looked like I had been in a fight yesterday. Benadryl took that away, but Benadryl also took away my ability to stay awake. Pretty sure I just slept 11 hours.
The reason I bring up the back-to-back semifinal games: there was a Big Ten team in each (have you heard?). And I was cheering against both (as I am wont to do). So I felt like it might be time to give you my theory on conference cheering (yet again).
I don't pull for other Big Ten teams in bowl games. I don't pull for other Big Ten teams in the NCAA Tournament. I believe in "we love no other" down to my core, so I hope that everyone else loses every game.
I feel that my stance is misunderstood, though. Yes, there's some "I was so mad walking out of the stadium around Michigan fans on November 19th - how could I then cheer for that team on December 31st?" to it. But that's not all of it. Maybe the best way to do this is to give you the arguments others have made to me and I'll just let you know where I stand.
"Sure, I'd be cheering against Iowa if they were in this spot, but what's wrong about cheering for Ohio State here? You're saying you hate all 13 Big Ten teams equally?"
No. And, honestly, this has very little to do with hate.
Yes, there are teams where I don't really care what happens (Maryland) and teams where I can't handle the next day if they win a big game (Iowa). Everyone has their own little personal hate list. Missouri is #1 by a country mile on mine. But this isn't really a hate thing. It doesn't come from some "oh man I dislike Wisconsin fans so very much" place. On the "who do I cheer for in the bowl game/tournament game?" scale, I simply place every conference opponent on the "do not cheer" list.
Actually, probably the best way to say that is to say that I don't cheer for anyone. Sure, I'll be watching a game between two teams I don't care about (say, Oregon/North Carolina), and I'll find myself with rooting interest in one of the games (for this one is was Oregon because of Bennett Williams), but I'm never really "cheering". I don't get invested like I do in an Illini game. I'm barely invested. You won't get a single cheer out of me (or even a fist pump). When I watch an Illini game I'm 100% in and when I watch any other game I'm 0.4% in.
So it's not really "hate." I simply have one rooting interest (my team) and every other game is watched without investment. When Michigan lost, I see all kinds of "EAT IT, scUM" tweets and I don't really have any of those feelings. I'm relieved that they didn't move on - my main motivation here is any and all Big Ten teams exalted above my own, yes, even Illini football - and so I'm simply pleased with the loss.
Mostly, I don't want to have to hear about any Big Ten team other than Illinois. A 1-8 Big Ten bowl season would be absolute perfection for me.
"But if the Big Ten gets embarrassed then Illinois, a member of the Big Ten, is getting embarrassed."
Horse hockey. I don't care one single ounce about some talking head saying that the Big Ten is a bowl season embarrassment. I pray for it every year. When I go visit Santa at the mall, THAT'S what I ask for. "Please, Santa, just let Ohio State and Michigan lose."
I just don't have any "Big Ten rules, SEC drools" feelings. I don't care. I don't even understand it. "My little grouping of teams is better than your little grouping of teams" - who cares? I care about my team and that's it. I don't care about the teams my team plays during the regular season beating teams from other conference during bowl (or tournament) season.
The only way I've ever been able to wrap my brain around it is to view it as people enjoying the feeling of "the team I was pulling for won the game" so much that they'll utilize all of the conference teams as their secondary teams during bowl season. And then if the Big Ten goes 7-2, they had 7 games where they felt good about the outcome.
It also gives them another platform for arguing. They argue with Michigan fans and Iowa fans all season and then they can argue "the ACC is a joke and the Big Ten is a monster" during bowl season. If you're an Illini football fan and you love to argue with people, you're pretty much forced into adopting all of the Big Ten teams as your secondary teams.
But it still feels like "loving" an "other". And we're pretty clearly instructed to Love No Other.
"So, like, if Big Ten teams go 2-7 in bowl games and 5-11 in the Tournament every year you're happy? The conference reputation is in the toilet and you prefer that over 'is this the best conference in America'?"
One HUNDRED percent. I absolutely prefer that. This is the part that always makes people wave their hand and say "this guy's an idiot" but that's 100% how I feel. I do not care if the conference is a laughingstock. All I care about is my team winning games.
I mean, first off, that's never going to happen. Money will forever keep the Big Ten at the top. Especially now with the new TV deals. Every school in the Big Ten will have the money to immediately fire coaches and hire someone who can fix the losing. We never have to worry about the Big Ten becoming the MAC.
But even if it did, honestly, I wouldn't care. If the Big Ten started being viewed as the 5th-best of the Power Five conference, I would not care a bit. And yes, I carry that through with every single "so the Big Ten becomes a 4-bid league in the NCAA Tournament and you don't care?" that you're coming up with right now. I do not care. I want my team to win and I hope all those other teams lose.
Ever listen to one of my "From The Stands" and think "bro, you're way too giddy after beating Wyoming"? This is why. Ever read something I wrote about a conference basketball loss at home and think "dude, what's the point of ranking this loss among all of the bad home losses of all time - it's just one game"? This is why. I care deeply about the individual games played by my team each season and NOTHING ELSE.
The results of the Illinois game don't fit on some broad spectrum where I want Illinois to win and then I want Missouri to lose and then I want Iowa, Indiana, and Michigan basketball to lose but I'm happy if every other Big Ten team wins because it holds up the conference reputation. I care (deeply) about Illinois winning and absolutely nothing else.
(Well, I hope that Missouri loses forever.)
Yes, there's room for rivalries on this. Yes, some losses hurt worse than others. Yes, pulverizing Northwestern in the LOL Hat game each of the last two years is absolutely exhilarating. There are levels within all of that. But that's the only arena I enter. Illinois games, did we win or lose. The end.
And because of that, I had zero investment last night besides hoping that both Michigan and Ohio State would lose. I don't want any Big Ten team exalted above my own, so in any type of playoff scenario, I want them out as quickly as possible.
When they lost, I did not taunt Michigan fans nor did I engage with Ohio State fans. I don't care about this in a "yeah, TASTE IT you losers" sense. I simply want them to lose so that we can grab a little more of the spotlight. We must increase, they must decrease.
Time to go beat Mississippi State and increase a little more.