Stratton’s Take: The rivalry America needs is right in front of us

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The UConn football team plays against Holy Cross on Saturday @ 12 at The Rentschler. The Huskies lost 38-28 after a strong start winning at the end of the first quarter. Photo by Julie Spillane/The Daily Campus

Let’s just be honest with each other. This whole University of Connecticut football thing? It’s not really working out. We’ve tried a couple different solutions. Being part of a conference? Failed. Being independent? We are two games in, and it’s not going well. So hear me out on my revolutionary idea that will bring meaning back to UConn football and take the sport back to its roots of school and state pride: an annual 13-game series between UConn and the University of Massachusetts.

Neither team is capable of doing anything against teams besides each other, as demonstrated by UConn’s display on Saturday against FCS Holy Cross and UMass’ 44-point beatdown at Pittsburgh. With this in mind, I do not think having these teams play once a year is enough. Sending players out on the field just to lose by 40 or more points is not helping anyone, so why not give everyone a chance to win?

Having the opportunity to win as many as 6 or more games in a year would also serve to excite the respective fanbases. It has become extremely hard to fill up Rentschler Field in recent years, with average attendance numbers hovering between one quarter and one half capacity. But give the team the chance to win every game they play? That’ll certainly fill the stands. What would be better than getting to watch the bottom two teams in the FBS square off week after week?

I’m confident that the UConn Athletic Department could convince CBS Sports Network to broadcast the entire series. After all, they’ve already signed on for all of the Huskies’ home games this year. Moving to CBS Sports Network would likely be quite attractive for UMass too, which currently plays their home games on FloSports, an online streaming service.

The rivalry would also be a PR machine. Think about how amusing it would be for beat writers around college football to discuss UConn and UMass playing for the 13th consecutive game of the year. The folks on ESPN’s College Gameday would also have a blast discussing and picking the winner of the game week after week. Who knows – perhaps UConn or UMass could even host gameday. Ryan McGee, a writer for ESPN’s Bottom 10, would love the idea. The weekly column lists and discusses the ten worst teams in the nation, and often includes both of these schools.

So what will they play for? Glad you asked. Most rivalries have a trophy that is awarded to the winner. Maybe if they’re lucky, the winner can get an Old Oaken Bucket, an axe or even the rare Civil ConFLiCT trophy. However, I don’t think those have quite enough meaning to commemorate a 13-game series. I propose that UConn and UMass play for something much bigger: the Southwick Jog. For those who are unfamiliar, that’s the two-square-mile piece of disputed land that Massachusetts claims as its own and cuts a hole in the symmetry of the northern border of Connecticut.

The existence of the Southwick Jog makes absolutely no sense geographically, which is part of its charm. Some say the surveyors who drew up the lines in the 1600s were drunk and misplaced the line too far north, using the Jog to compensate in favor of Massachusetts. There are many other possible answers, but they won’t matter once the notch is involved in this yearly battle. Not only does having the Jog as the prize create a tangible incentive, it also generates some much needed state pride.

Picture this: it’s a blisteringly cold November afternoon and the UMass-UConn rivalry is even at 6-6. Despite the intense weather, you and the entire family excitedly rush over to Rentschler field to view the spectacle that is about to occur. This is bigger than football. Bragging rights over our neighboring state are on the line: we need the Southwick Jog in our possession.

As the years pass, the rivalry inevitably becomes even bigger with the excitement that it garners locally, nationally and internationally. Every top-level recruit is now dying to get a chance to play in this illustrious event. UConn and UMass are each stacked with five-star talent and this series is considered the national championship, effectively overtaking and even abolishing the college football playoff. As it grows, a stadium is built in the Jog itself, with the previous year’s winner winning home field for all 13 of the next year’s games.

Lastly, the rivalry needs a name. What good rivalry doesn’t have a nice, flashy name? Bob Diaco brilliantly coined the “Civil ConFLiCT” in 2014, while the historic Iron Bowl between Alabama and Auburn got its name in 1964. Historically, the battle between UConn and UMass has been dubbed “The U-Game” after the letter U that starts both school’s nicknames. That just doesn’t fly though with the game’s newfound meaning. Its new name? The Joust for the Jog. Doesn’t it have a nice ring to it?

Now that I’ve set the table, all that needs to be done is the scheduling. My final message to AD David Benedict: My door is always open — let’s make this happen.

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