Last Monday, UConn declared a rivalry with UCF. @UConnFootball unveiled a trophy and countdown clock in UConn's locker room. UCF's response? "We have no involvement with the trophy or creating a rivalry game with UConn."
UCF and UConn have played twice. Here are the results:
1. In 2013, the Knights destroyed the Huskies 62-17 en route to a Fiesta Bowl winning campaign.
2. In 2014, the Huskies upset the Knights 37-29. It was UConn's only win over an FBS team. It was UCF's only AAC loss (to date!) and meant that the Knights shared the 2014 AAC title instead of winning it outright for the second consecutive year.
Only the latter result appears on the trophy.
It's an odd rivalry to claim, even for the nascent AAC. As the inimitable Spencer Hall put it:
2. When choosing a rivalry, be sure to seek out someone with literally no overlap in interests or cultural stakes. This ensures a hearty staring across the field wondering if the opposing fan even breathes the same gas, or considers the same items to be food.
3. Additionally, make sure the two teams are literally as far apart as two teams in conference or division can be. This ensures minimum attendance of games, and thus preserves a real mystery about who, or even what the opponent truly may be.
UConn Blog's Tim Fontenault joined us to discuss the newly-declared "Civil Conflict."
On fan reaction:
Chas: UConn's twitter announcement, the countdown clock, the unilateral declaration of rivalry. How are UConn fans reacting to all this?
Tim: I think UConn fans were caught off guard in much the same way UCF was. After the game last year when Diaco was talking about the idea of a trophy, everyone was like, "OK, he's happy they won. There's no way he's serious." No one ever looked at UCF as a rival. Now no one knows what to think. I don't think anyone looks at it as a rivalry now, except Diaco, of course.
Chas: That was going to be my next question - whether any UConn fans think this is a rivalry. I will tell you on the UCF side, it's much the same. No fan views a rivalry as existing. And there's not been anything from the program suggesting a rivalry exists either.
Tim: I guess what I'm really dying to know is what the actual [UCF fan] reaction was. I feel like it was the same as UConn fans but on a completely different level, like if a girl were to open Facebook and see a relationship status request from a guy she had no interest in.
Chas: Or that she didn't really know that well, even. But you've captured the prevailing view perfectly. I would say there's a minority that describe it as embarrassing, or a symptom of being in an embarrassing conference.
Me, I'm more of an optimist. I think it's absurd. And just really funny actually. And I'm open to embracing and enjoying the absurdity here. Even if I can't call it a "rivalry" in any meaningful sense.
Tim: Me too. I'm all for a good time with it. It's something that will allow our fanbases to interact in a new way through the beauty of social media. It won't be hatred. There will be no conflict. There will be civility.
But do our fans, uh, know each other?
Chas: Part of what's so baffling here is the lack of connection between the fanbases. We're not remotely geographically proximate. I mean, how many UCF fans do you know? Personally?
Tim: The only reason I know UCF fans is because my best friend, my old UConn roommate, recently moved to Kissimmee to work at Disney and I spent a week with him down there in May. I don't understand how anyone can consider the two schools rivals. Prior to the American, I remember one UConn-UCF matchup in anything, which was basketball in a November tournament a few years back. I knew UCF as the team Michael Jordan's son played for back then.
Who are the teams' respective "real rivals?"
Tim: In football, I give the rival nod to Temple or USF, and even those are not big-time rivalries for anyone. None of [the "Civil Conflict"] makes sense.
Chas: Which of those gets the nod as the bigger football rival for you?
Tim: Probably USF. They were in the Big East with us longer and UConn's had a couple of famous wins against them (Dave Teggart's field goal when the fans stormed the field and the win to put UConn in the Fiesta Bowl). But again, even calling them a rival is iffy.
Chas: Of course, they're our rival as well. It's a funny contrast: the War on I-4 was bitter from the start. It was bitter when UCF was going 0-4. It was bitter when we weren't playing USF. And it is bitter since the rivalry resumed here with UCF going 2-0 since the transition to the AAC. But with UConn . . . definitely not seeing the rancor between fan bases.
Tim: [UCF/USF] makes sense as a natural rivalry. I learned quickly during my trip that most on-ramps to highways had two signs: East to Orlando; West to Tampa. It makes so much sense! UConn and any Connecticut team would if any other school had big-time athletics. There's a reason Boston College was considered a major rival in the old days.
Diaco as mad marketing . . . genius?
Tim: With Diaco, you nod your head to let him know you're listening, but nine times out of 10 you're looking for a thesaurus or trying to decipher a weird phrase. I was in the press conference after UCF. We all laughed and went along with it, thinking there was only a 5 percent chance he would really do this. "Oh, a bowl of oranges or nutmeg? Haha, oh, Bob, you're hilarious!" No one understood it.
Apparently he talked to George O'Leary about it, and based on that, it seems like it was a guy asking a girl on a date and getting the "I'll think about it." In this case, Diaco is me in eighth grade.
Chas: Say this for Diaco though: UConn-UCF may not be a "rivalry" but now it's certainly a . . . "something." Whatever that "something" is, there will without a doubt be more interest in next year's game. Even if no one other than Diaco has the date circled on the calendar.
Tim: Yea, absolutely. That's the thing about Diaco. I haven't always agreed with him, but he is a businessman as much as a coach, and he is doing a heck of a job marketing his team. I want to be at the game now because this is going to be an interesting one. And does it carry over into other sports now, too? We'll at least joke about it. UConn and UCF are playing in men's soccer. "It's the Civil Conflict!" Bob's starting a phenomenon.
And it's not only with crazy moves like this. Diaco is doing a great job marketing his team to the public and to recruits, as well. Players know the last few years have been tough, but Diaco is making them want to be here.
Chas: A friend of mine who is a UConn fan (I know two!) put it this way, which I think is consistent with your comment about Diaco as marketing the program: "It's a great thing for UConn whether a real rivalry or perceived." Gets people talking.
Regardless of whether a genuine rivalry develops between UConn and UCF, Diaco's declaration of a "Civil Conflict" has certainly succeeded in starting a conversation.
"We're excited about this game. I mean it. I'm excited to continue this game. With all admiration and respect. All admiration and respect for Central Florida and Coach O'Leary. They're spectacular. But we're excited about this North/South battle. You want to call it the Civil Conflict? Maybe I'll win my money and make a trophy. I'll buy it myself. Put a big giant Husky and a big giant Knight on it. Make a stand. Put it in our hallway. The Civil Conflict. The loser, maybe they've got to put nutmeg on the stand when it's not there and we'll put a sack of oranges."