Multiway rivalries: Why not CA?

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What would you do for a single boot?

Maybe you’re wondering what you would do with half a pair of boots. Perhaps you’ve lost a shoe and need a solitary replacement. Mayhap you’re someone who enjoys hopping immensely. Or you could just be wondering why in the Sam Hill you’re being asked about a boot.

In collegiate sports, however, nothing is really as it seems, and if you are a large university from Utah, a boot could mean a great deal more.

College sports are well known for their eccentric and barely explicable traditions, as well as the puzzling, but euphoric, passion that they incite. Rivalry games are a signature part of this fandom, as are the trophies and customs that follow them.

Like many, those who support the Bears have personal knowledge of such emotions. Cal fans are familiar with the Big Game, rival Stanford, the Axe and the fact that Stanford no longer possesses it.

Two schools’ mutual dislike has made many an exciting match on fields, in pools, on tracks and anywhere student-athletes suit up to represent their institutions. But there’s no reason to limit that number to two, and for a few unique rivalries around the country, that is exactly the case.

The aforecited boot is an example of a trophy that is shared between three schools. The Beehive Boot is contested by the football programs of Utah, Utah State and BYU — whoever has the best record among the three lays claim to the trophy.

It is far from the only one of its kind, the most famous of which is likely the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy, which Army, Navy and Air Force vie for. The Michigan MAC Trophy (Eastern Michigan, Western Michigan and Central Michigan) is a three-way contest, as is the Florida Cup (Florida State, Florida and Miami).

But if you can have three, why not try for four? And if you can have four, why not California?

A multiway rivalry is unique. It creates a competition that feels bigger than any one game, but retains a local flavor and fervor that a conference tournament or national championship may not share. It is for that reason that a four-way rivalry trophy would be perfect for the California Pac-12 schools — Cal, Stanford, UCLA and USC.

The four Pac-12 schools would avoid many of the scheduling issues faced by other multiway rivalries, and all four are guaranteed to play each other each season. The largest difficulty would be the potential for ties. To lift the hypothetical “California Cup,” one team would likely need to defeat all three of its in-state rivals.

But ties could even enhance the rivalry. The California Cup would be that much rarer and that much more precious when won, not to mention that it could give teams the opportunity to deny their opponents a shot at the trophy and raise the stakes and animosities of individual rivalries.

The holder of the California Cup could lay claim to the title of the best football team in California, and there is no reason that such a competition would need to be restricted to the football field. The four-way rivalry could be contested across sports.

In many ways, the games shared by those four schools are tailor-made for such a competition. They share animosity and already have some of the nation’s most bitter rivalry games. There is no love lost between any of those fanbases, which circle seasonal duels on their calendars in any sport, regardless of the stakes or records involved.

A multiway rivalry can be a risk — all teams involved must be equally passionate for the competition lest it lose its meaning — but with Cal, Stanford, UCLA and USC, a rivalry trophy would simply be a manifestation of existing passions.

It would channel those feelings — the hope and elation of victory, the despondency and sadness of defeat — into a shared goal. It would give each school a new tradition, a new custom and a new reason to enjoy sports. And it would add to that which makes college sports great — the unique, the eccentric and the barely understandable.

Jasper Kenzo Sundeen covers men’s soccer. Contact him at [email protected].