What sets college sports apart from other sports is the traditions associated with them. When you have matchups going back to the 1800s, you have a set of hallowed traditions that most professional sports could never hope to match.
That is why it has been so disconcerting to me to see in the past few years, some of those traditions start to erode. I'm not averse to the re-configuration of the college conferences that we saw starting several years back. However, this shakeup has had some very negative side-effects. For example, the Texas-Texas A+M rivalry (which has its own Wikipedia page!) is now over. Even the Wikipedia page describes the rivalry in the past tense:
"The Texas-Texas A&M football rivalry was..."
This is a rivalry that started in 1898 and was played up until 2011. However, due to the teams being in separate conferences, it is unclear when it may resume, if ever. One of the nation's finest rivalries is just gone. This is a total shanda (check your Yiddish!), because these rivalries and traditions are what set college football apart from the NFL. The NFL seems too corporate and passionless in comparison. If college sports lets these traditions fall by the wayside, their journey to NFL Jr. will be complete.
Fortunately, the Big Game won't disappear like that fiasco, but we're starting to see bits and pieces chipped away.
There have been some issues that have undermining the traditions of the Big Game. The first problems actually started up some time ago. In 1999, Stanford started scheduling games after Big Game. From 1892-1998, the last game of the season was Big Game. Year in, year out. The year culminating in the rivalry game. One last opportunity to salvage a season (if the team is not doing well). But starting in 1999, Stanford hosts ND every other year after Big Game. That diminishes the value of the Big Game, in my view.
October Big Game
Since Stanford hosts Notre Dame after Big Game every other year, it creates scheduling problems for the Pac-12. The Saturday a full week after Thanksgiving is the Pac-12 Championship game, so we lose that weekend for football. That means that the schedule is tightened up a bit. That pushed the Big Game into October in 2012(and will do so again every several years going forward):
While many local football fans would consider playing the Big Game in October to be an affront to tradition, the fact is Cal and Stanford will get together for the 115th time on Oct. 20 at a renovated Memorial Stadium instead of on the third Saturday of November.
It marks the first time the Big Game will have been played in October and only the fifth time it has not been staged in November.
When the Pac-12 Conference on Wednesday released its football schedule for 2012, the Oct. 20 date of Stanford at Cal stood out. It came to be from a majority vote among the conference's athletic directors, with Cal's Sandy Barbour and Stanford's Bob Bowlsby voting nay.
"I am very disappointed that these challenges have resulted in the moving of our rivalry with Stanford," Barbour said. "... Cal and Stanford were opposed to the schedule that was ultimately adopted. We do not expect this 2012 scenario to be the norm, but an exception.
Another piece of Big Game chipped away. What we have seen so far, however, don't really affect Big Game in certain ways. There are two main parts to Big Game. Big Game and Big Game Week. What I've discussed so far are changes to Big Game itself (whether it is in October or not the last game of the year).
However, Big Game is still a football game, whether played in October or the penultimate game of the season. Changing Big Game itself doesn't necessarily affect Big Game Week. We can still have the full week of Big Game traditions, including titration, Bonfire, and the Cable Car Rally. The week leading up to Big Game is, in my view, just as important as the Big Game itself. It is about a community coming together to celebrate a 100+ year rivalry between two great schools.
Well, now that is under attack and the call is coming from inside the house! THE CALL IS COMING FROM INSIDE THE HOUSE!
We have the most recent and very weird affront to Big Game traditions, David Shaw's odd hatred of the Guardsmen Luncheon. What is the Guardsmen Luncheon? It is basically a pep rally between the two schools for charity put on the Guardsmen organization (a local 65 year old group designed to help at-risk youth):
For 45 years, the Stanford and Cal head coaches appeared at the Guardsmen's Big Game luncheon to help hype the rivalry game.
The Guardsmen uses proceeds to send underprivileged youngsters to summer camp.
Sounds great! A joint luncheon to celebrate the game and help underprivileged kids. Many other rivals can't even be in the same room together.
So, what is the problem now? For the last two years, David Shaw has failed to attend this event. A key cog in the Big Game Week tradition and Stanford is showing increasing disinterest in it.
In 2012, Shaw and the band failed to show. The Stanford band claimed it couldn't read a calendar correctly and figured Cal wouldn't show up either:
The Stanford band had committed to another event before knowing the Guardsmen date,university spokesperson Lisa Lapin said. "They apparently were also under an impression that the Cal band wouldn't be there, either," she said.
The Cal band did attend, because they can read a calendar. Shaw not attending caused Jeff Tedford (fighting for his job at that point) also not to attend, further weakening the tradition. In 2012, Shaw tried to claim that he was booked up because of the weird October date. How does that explain 2013?
First, Stanford Head Football Coach David Shaw skipped the event for the second straight year. The last time Coach Shaw came up from The Farm to San Francisco for the Guardsman's Fairmount Hotel mid-day party and charity to raise money for at-risk youth was 2011.
But for 2013, The Guardsmen Luncheon producers expected Coach Shaw to come and were really miffed that he did not show up. "It's about the tradition of the event," one person said. "Coach is going to wreck that by not showing up. This is for a good cause!"
Sonny Dykes did appear! Go Bears! Beat the schedule! The writer of that article blames Coach Shaw for diminishing the attendance at the event (thus decreasing the charity):
"...But I think that by not coming Coach Shaw and the Stanford Alumns who skipped cause the overall attendance to fall dramatically over 2010, the last time I attended the event.
Then it was held in the Grand Ballroom of the Fairmount Hotel; this time it was supposed to be there again, but because of the lower attendance was moved to the much smaller Gold Room. The lunch was about half the size it has been in the past. That's really sad as it seems that the overall intent of the luncheon, which is to raise money for at-risk youth, is not being communicated. Something is clearly wrong when Coach Shaw skips out of it for the second year in a row (sending a 15 second video message that was met with a load chorus of boos from the Cal-biased crowd) and a large group of Stanford alums follows suit, or seem to have done so because Shaw elected not to come."
This might seem minor to you, but I think that these traditions are important. This has been ongoing for 45 years and helps charity. I'm sure Coach Shaw can take a few hours out of his busy schedule to come to the event.
I fear future Big Game traditions may be weakened, which would be truly unfortunate. Tradition is one of the most important aspects to college sports and Big Game is one of the most important traditions in college sports!