Published on June 8th, 2013 | by John Heniff, Staff writer
Can Missouri and Illinois be Arch Rivals again?
With the future of the Border War between the University of Kansas and University of Missouri unknown at best, Missouri fans are anxious to see another football rivalry arise. For this one, Missouri might have to look opposite of Kansas.
In another long-standing rivalry, the Tigers can put new stock in a football rivalry with the University of Illinois. Since 1896, Illinois and Missouri have played 24 times in football in a series known as the “Arch Rivalry.” But the rivalry has intensified over the last 50 years on a semi-annual basis as the first game of the year for both teams, with the last meeting between the two on September 4th, 2010, in the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis. Missouri won 23-13.
Recently, St. Louis Sports Commission president Frank Viverito expressed interest in reviving the series in the near future. He was quoted saying, “Yes, we’re in discussions. It would be whatever the schools want it to be: two years or four years, alternate between St. Louis and Chicago or alternate between Champaign, Columbia, and St. Louis.” Viverito went on to say he hoped the game would bring “atmosphere, revenue and tradition” to the St. Louis area.
On the hardwood, the rivalry has been an annual intense clash since 1980. Every December, students, alumni and fans of the Tigers and the Fighting Illini pack the Scottrade Center in St. Louis for the “Braggin’ Rights” basketball game. Every year the game is intense and draws any and all die-hard fans and alumni to a “neutral site” in between Columbia and Urbana-Champaign.
Although there is a push for another installment of the rivalry in football, many Illinois fans don’t consider the “Arch Rivalry” a worthy rivalry for a plethora of reasons. Unlike the “Braggin’ Rights” 20-12 edge for Illinois, the games rarely had blowouts and were hard-fought contests that were decided by only a few points. However, Missouri leads 17-7 in the “Arch Rivalry,” with Illinois never stringing together more than two wins in a row. On top of that, Illinois isn’t known as a football school as much as it is a basketball school. Beginning the football season 0-1 like the last six meetings before taking on Illinois’ usually difficult Big Ten schedule was a recipe for disaster.
On the other hand, the rivalry can bring many positives to both schools. A heated rivalry game would launch a sellout of the newly renovated Faurot Field in the near future and bring new business to various shops all around Columbia, as well as Urbana-Champaign. Additionally, Corey Rudd of StlSportsMinute.com commented that Illinois would bring tough competition for the Tigers before they face the dominant Southeastern Conference (SEC) teams on their schedule.
“Beating cupcakes is fun, but Mizzou must be able to prepare for the challenges the SEC regular season holds and Illinois would prepare the Tigers the most,” He said. Rudd also notes that a game in St. Louis would help with Missouri recruiting players from the area. “Anytime the program can get premium exposure in front of the school’s biggest metro area, the Tigers must do so.”
Alongside the push for Missouri-Illinois, the SEC recently announced that Missouri and the University of Arkansas Razorbacks will play each other annually as permanent rivals to coincide with the SEC’s 6-1-1 conference schedule. Besides playing four non-conference teams, each SEC team plays the other six teams in their respective division, one permanent, cross-divisional rival and a differentiating cross-divisional opponent every year.
This year, the Texas A&M University Aggies will take the place of Arkansas before the rivalry is enacted next year and will play at Faurot Field on November 30th. For the cross-divisional game, Missouri will travel to Oxford to play the University of Mississippi Rebels on November 23rd.
Can a reinstated Missouri-Illinois rivalry work in the future? Perhaps. But two major changes should be implemented, with one change being the addition of an exuberant personality to one of the teams to make the game more exciting than it already is. A charismatic coach such as former head basketball coach Norm Stewart, or a star player like former quarterback Blaine Gabbert is the shot in the arm any rivalry like this needs to become heated, and more importantly, worth watching.
Secondly, the universities should implement the use of home stadium rotation instead of using a neutral site. A game at either Faurot Field or Memorial Stadium would bring out the diehard fans in a spectacular outdoor spectacle in two esteemed college towns. It would also bring in substantial revenue to business’ in both towns.
In the meantime, Arkansas will have to do. Perhaps in a few years the rivalry with Illinois will be rekindled for the football season in St. Louis, Chicago, Columbia, or Urbana-Champaign. But as they say, you never forget your first love (or perhaps rival). The border may be different, but it no way replaces the pure hatred and competition that was the Border War. Looking up at the scoreboard at Faurot Field, it will say Arkansas. But to the Missouri faithful, many will imagine it says (Ar)Kansas.