Why New England Doesn’t Care About College Sports
Will Gordon’s got a good piece on college football in New England you should read. But it’s a bit flawed, in the sense that it leaves out the cultural differences of New England and the South.
When I was a kid, every summer and Christmas I went to visit my mother and her family in Tennessee, first from Washington D.C. and then from Vermont. It was a culture shock at first for a number of reasons, albeit not the ones you’d expect; the suburbs of Chattanooga aren’t a good place to find redneck stereotypes.
The strangest thing, though, the thing that lacked any point of comparison, was the college football obsession. There’s a lot of high-minded bullshit floating around about the SEC and the South’s obsession with football, but it’s really pretty simple. It’s about state pride. Not every state has a professional football team, but every state in the South has at least one elite college team, and they go head-to-head on an annual basis. “My state is better than yours” is a cause most people can get behind, especially when it’s quantifiable.
Add into this the South’s relentless inferiority complex, which really comes to the fore when a state in the region is at its worst. It’s one thing to have in the back of your mind that everybody thinks you’re an ignorant hick, and quite another to have that belief confirmed. Once you realize that, a lot about what’s crappy about the region clicks into place. The South is not nearly as bad as its more colorful elected politicians and religious leaders make it come off as, but when state pride and inferiority complexes slam into each other, it’s an ugly, toxic thing.
New England, really, is just the opposite. New England, at its worst, is a quietly smug place. My father is from Vermont and I’ve lived in New England the majority of my life, and while I love it, I freely admit there’s some truth to the stereotype of New Englanders thinking they’re the smartest people in the room.
As a result, there’s not a lot of contests over state pride. Sure, people will crack jokes, just like anywhere else, but by and large, there’s no need to lord your state’s dominance over the others. You already know you’re better.
It does help that there’s not, by and large, a terribly strong football program in most of New England. UVM, my alma mater, sells shirts making fun of its legendarily terrible football program, which ended in the 1970s after five winless seasons. Harvard’s biggest sporting event is the Head of the Charles, a crew competition.
That’s hard to fight with. So, to get New England to care, Boston College is either going to have to work a lot harder, or beat a bunch of SEC teams.