Count your blessings everyone, it’s Conflict Week. The Civil Conflict, a rivalry between UConn football and UCF football created by UConn head coach Bob Diaco in June 2015, will premiere its 2016 iteration this Saturday when the Huskies host the Knights at Rentschler Field in East Hartford.
The Conflict’s legitimacy has come under fire from critics, but it also has its vocal supporters. So, the question to be batted back and forth this week is: is the Civil Conflict actually a real rivalry, or is it a Bob Diaco fever dream? Our competitors will be sports editor Dan Madigan and associate sports editor Tyler Keating.
Dan Madigan: The idea that the Conflict is not a rivalry is a fair one, but not necessarily correct. While the whole idea of the Conflict began as a figment of Diaco’s imagination, it is now very much a real rivalry for one reason: the Conflict trophy. Prominently displayed in the Burton Family Football complex (and in the Huskies’ video of achievements in their pitch to the Big 12) the Conflict trophy served as a high point during Diaco’s first two seasons in Storrs. In the Conflict era, the Huskies are 2-0 against the Knights, including a resounding 40-13 road win over UCF last season. Say what you want, but for a program looking for success in any way, shape or form, the Conflict trophy has served as an ace in the hole for Diaco and company, giving the Huskies that little bit of motivation to prevail past their conference foe.
Tyler Keating: For all the motivation that Diaco’s trophy gambit provided to the team last year as the Huskies pulled off an unlikely rout, that doesn’t seem to be a factor this year. Diaco downplayed the importance of the Conflict rivalry at his press conference this week, and if the man who created the trophy is downplaying the trophy, then I’m sure UCF is downplaying the trophy too. A rivalry goes as far as the energy provided on both sides, and if the only energy comes from one side, funneled through one tiny, bland trophy, then there’s not much of a rivalry there. When you take away that energy, then nothing is left at all. New energy can be generated from a history of bad blood between a pair of teams, but UConn and UCF have only played three times in history. The Red Sox and Yankees have played each other 2,193 times in history. Not to compare the best rivalry in history to the worst, from a sport that plays 162 games a year, but honestly I couldn’t help myself.
Madigan: Granted, UCF and UConn haven’t played nearly as much as the Sox and Yankees, but this rivalry is still in its infancy. While it certainly has been downplayed by both sides this season, the rivalry still has some weight in the fan bases of both schools. Like it or not, this seemingly unorthodox rivalry has done exactly what it was intended to do: bring attention to a football game between UConn and UCF. Some say there is no such thing as bad publicity, and while the Conflict has certainly gotten its share of flak, it also has gotten people talking about a football game between to middle-of-the-road (at best) football teams in a Group of 5 conference. While UCF fans have bashed the rivalry from the get-go, a core group of UConn fans have embraced it, and the constant social media and verbal sparring between the two schools’ fans have helped this evolve from a made up idea and trophy to the schools disliking one another because of this whole thing. In short, this made up rivalry spawned a real rivalry between these two American Athletic Conference members.
Keating: I’d go the other way and say that the media attention brought upon the UConn football program by the creation of the Conflict was actually bad publicity. For the large majority of sports fans that considered UConn football to be an unremarkable program, the creation of this manufactured rivalry seemed to reek of desperation, and the fact that UCF denied participation in the creation only added fuel to that fire. Sure, the American would love to generate friction between its members, which have very little shared history compared to a majority of the nation’s conferences, but they also need to generate respect as a legitimate league. To help that cause, the league would probably like to see its most well-known members keep their heads down and continue to prove their worth. UConn should want to find themselves in the media cycle because they’re making noise nationally, not because they’ve turned themselves into a laughing stock. That’s never a good way to begin a rivalry, and that’s not the way to convince the media to frame your rivalry.