When I was a little kid growing up in a UNC household, I remember my dad filling out his March Madness brackets and advancing every ACC team (Duke excluded) to the Sweet 16.
I always thought that was weird — I watched more Wake Forest games than any one man should, for example, and I never felt the need to advance them ahead. But my dad said he always picks ACC teams and cheered for them in the tournament. It made the conference look better, and he felt a kinship with them, I suppose. (Again, I can’t stress enough how much Duke was excluded in this.)
Compare that to the reaction of quite a few TCU fans last week when Texas Tech was bounced in the College World Series. For the most part, there was pure schadenfreude, pure excitement that the Red Raiders wouldn’t make the final series.
I always have a soft spot for Tech, because I have family that went there. But it did get me thinking — is it the duty of a college sports fan to root for teams from their school’s conference?
Let me put this in as clear of terms as possible: no!
The SEC has “it just means more,” the ACC looks down its nose at every other conference in basketball and the Big 10 has its own weird “we’re better than you because we’re all land-grant school” pride. The Pac-12 is coming apart at the seams and has a sense of self-loathing that is truly remarkable.
But the Big 12 is sort of in the middle, and I think that’s where any fan should be. TCU fans should know this better than anyone. Do you still pull for Mountain West teams? Do you root for San Diego State and Wyoming every weekend? I sure hope not. The Frogs moved on to bigger and better things. Conference allegiances are fickle; each school is in it for themselves, and shouldn’t feel tied to anyone else.
The main argument, of course, is that if other schools in your conference play well, it makes your school’s resume better. I think this is ridiculous. If TCU goes undefeated and makes the College Football Playoff, I don’t care if a single other Big 12 team wins a bowl game. It’s not going to rain on my parade at all.
And why should fans have to suffer the indignity of hoping another team will carry its conference’s title hopes? Sure, good for Oklahoma making the CFP the last two years. But the mentality shouldn’t have to be, “man, I hope the Sooners win one for the Big 12.” It should be, “man, I hope we’re there next year.”
We also shouldn’t feel obligated to root for teams we as a school normally dislike. If Texas is in a bowl game against Georgia, are we really using that as a referendum on the Big 12 against the SEC? No! We should be rooting for the ‘Dawgs. And I would hope Texas fans feel the exact same way if they watched the Frogs play.
But when it comes to non-rivals, I don’t think schadenfreude is the answer either. I understand plenty of TCU fans don’t like Tech, but I don’t think we should take up torches and pitchforks against them either. And I’m not going to root against, say, Iowa State in a game because they’re a conference-mate. It’s just a healthy dose of indifference.
Birds of a feather may flock together, but birds in a conference should fly solo, if you will.
All of this is a typically long-winded way of saying that you should root for who you want to root for. If you have a strange affinity for Kansas State, root for Kansas State. If you have a burning dislike of West Virginia, root against West Virginia. Nobody is stopping you, and you shouldn’t be forced to root for or against a specific team just because your team happens to play them every year.
Just don’t root for Duke.