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Arkansas vs Missouri: A Rivalry of Apathy

Can a true rivalry develop between two schools who regard each other as a nuisance?

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The most heated part of the Arkansas-Missouri rivalry is the fight over which fanbase cares about it the least.

There appears to be little doubt both fanbases have rejected, at least for now, hyping the annual game to the level of "rivalry." It's more of a reluctant rivalry. Call it the Nuisance Bowl. Or the "I Guess We Have To Bowl."

The basic problem is that ultimately a replacement rivalry for both schools. A relationship rebound, if you will. Arkansas was forced away from the season-ending game vs LSU, which Hog fans loved even if LSU fans never cared. And of course, Missouri's historic Border War rivalry with Kansas is on respite following the Tigers' move to the SEC.

The Boot trophy of course is made of 24K gold and is a filled out map of Arkansas and Louisiana. The Battle Line trophy is made of silver and is hollow. It is truly a fitting symbol how fans view the game compared to the LSU game.

There's simply been no trigger that would cause the same level of emotional investment in the Battle Line Rivalry compared to those previous games. Even Friday's game, in which Missouri could have earned bowl eligibility and extended Gary Pinkel's career for another game, seemed to have less intensity than Arkansas' games against UTEP and UT-Martin, the latter of which was also played in bad weather.

There are events that could have had that trigger effect, but they haven't truly panned out. The biggest football fight came over the recruitment of Dorial Green-Beckham, and though he did have some great moments on the field for the Tigers, he ended up kicked off the team and never played against Arkansas. The Razorbacks did sign Mike Anderson from Missouri, and even though the Tigers' program hasn't been the same since, Anderson likewise has yet to achieve the same success in Fayetteville he had in Columbia. It makes it hard to be too bitter.

The time Arkansas and Missouri felt most like a rivalry to me was the first time the schools played basketball with Anderson at Arkansas. It was in Fayetteville in 2013 with several Tigers fans in attendance. Arkansas even won the game controversially, but the initial intensity has faded over the last few years as the two programs failed to stay at a similar level (until possibly this year, when both teams are expected to be among the worst basketball teams in the league).

The crowd in Columbia for last year's football game was good, but the Tigers were also playing for an SEC East title. Arkansas failed to keep them from it, so without similar stakes and without a revenge factor for Missouri, this year's football game seemed more of an afterthought. There was no "you can throw the records out the window!" factor.

However, rivalries don't have to be birthed out of fiery hatred. That's how most college rivalries are branded, but they don't have to be that way. No single event caused Arkansas fans to start feeling strongly about the LSU game. Rivalries can also be more of a measuring stick. There are several instances in professional sports of historic rivalries that existed not because of hatred but because of an elite level of competition between two adversaries. Unfortunately for the Battle Line, neither Arkansas nor Missouri view each other that way.

Both programs want to elevate their status, and that doesn't come through beating each other. Not right now, anyway.

I actually think the game is a lot of fun. I like that the game is sort of a fight between SEC outposts. I like that there's relatively close proximity between campuses. I like that the two schools occasionally fight over recruits. I like that the schools wear red and black when they play instead of someone wearing white.

Mostly, I like that both schools are dismissive of each other because both think they're better than each other. The mutual snobbery is enjoyable.

Will this ever achieve the level of one of college sports' iconic rivalries? I don't know. But I know it can't be forced. It has to be organic. You can't just schedule it for the end of the year, build a trophy for it, give it a nickname, and get people to buy in. If anything, putting the game at the end of the year could make it harder. In seasons like this one, one of the teams was basically just ready for the season to end. The game would have had more juice a month or two ago, but they'd checked out by Thanksgiving.

Just let the game be what it is. Don't try to force it. Let the schools fight over recruits and occasionally, possibly even a coach, and let's see what happens.