Legislator wants to force USC-Clemson rivalry to go on

The (Columbia) StateFebruary 6, 2012 

COLUMBIA -- The University of South Carolina and Clemson will be required -- by state law -- to continue their annual football matchup in perpetuity if one lawmaker has his way.

State Rep. Nathan Ballentine, R-Lexington, has introduced a proposal, to be considered by a panel of House members Wednesday, to require the two teams to continue their annual face-off, college football's second-longest consecutively played rivalry in the nation. The teams have met 103 consecutive years.

With both the Southeastern Conference, to which USC belongs, and the Atlantic Coast Conference, to which Clemson belongs, adding teams this year, Ballentine and some other fans are worried that scheduling conflicts could mean no more USC-Clemson matchups.

For instance, the ACC soon will add Pittsburgh and Syracuse universities to its membership. As the ACC expands, it also will require league members to play nine conference games each fall -- up from the current eight.

That will leave Clemson with only three games to play non-ACC members, including USC.

The SEC also is expanding -- adding Missouri and Texas A&M.

"I had a constituent bring it up to me, asking whether it was state law that these two teams play. It's not," said Ballentine, a 1992 USC graduate. "With all the conference realignment, we just wanted to make sure this annual game continues."

Other longtime rivalries have been put on the shelf as conferences have realigned, Ballentine noted.

"You saw Texas and Texas A&M," Ballentine said, referring to the two Texas schools that no longer will play after A&M bolted to the SEC from the Big 12, which includes Texas. "That rivalry went by the wayside. Nebraska and Missouri dropped by the wayside (in 2010). No one wants to see that happen here to our two universities where families enjoy the annual game, and it's great for our economy."

Ballentine said he wrote both universities, asking for their input, but heard nothing.

University officials said Monday they do not want legislative guidance on their football schedules.

Spokesman Wes Hickman said USC appreciates Ballentine's sentiment but does not support his bill. "Athletic schedules need to be decided by athletic directors and coaches," Hickman said.

In a statement, Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips said, "Clemson would prefer to not have to legislate this issue as I cannot conceive of a realistic scenario that would prohibit Clemson and South Carolina from continuing our football series."

This wouldn't be the first time Palmetto State lawmakers have stepped in to preserve the state's most well-known rivalry game.

During his research, Ballentine discovered that USC and Clemson only played each other Oct. 23, 1952, because the General Assembly intervened to require that they play.

That year, Clemson ignored a ban on going to a bowl game by its then-conference -- the Southern Conference -- and played the University of Miami in the Orange Bowl. The penalty? Clemson was barred from playing any other Southern Conference opponent, including USC.

"There is a precedence for doing this," Ballentine said.

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