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Goodbye, Civil ConFLiCT. And good riddance.

Matt Baker takes his tongue out of his cheek long enough to give UCF-UConn the sincere farewell it deserves.
UConn players, including cornerback Jhavon Williams (6) and offensive lineman Tyler Samra (60) celebrate as they hold up a rivalry trophy named by the team as the Conflict trophy after defeating UCF 40-13 on Oct. 10, 2015. [JOHN RAOUX | AP]
Published Sep. 26

UConn’s trip to No. 22 UCF on Saturday will be the end of an era.

It’s the final Civil ConFLiCT.

Although the Huskies and Knights have discussed future meetings after UConn leaves the AAC, it just won’t be the same. The Civil ConFLiCT as we know it —a heated rivalry with a rich tradition and renowned trophy — will soon be over.

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As this storied series prepares to meet its tragic end at Spectrum Stadium, allow me to take my tongue out of my cheek long enough to deliver the sincere farewell it deserves.

Goodbye, Civil ConFLiCT.

And good riddance.

The ridiculous “rivalry” did nothing besides highlight the cluelessness of the adults who run college sports.

It’s easy to focus on nonsensical name or the cheap-looking trophy that looked like something you’d buy at a strip mall for your fantasy football league. But college football is full of ridiculous trinkets, from turnover chains (Miami) to a bronze cornstalk (given to the winner of Ball State-Northern Illinois). UCF doesn’t have a problem hoisting a sign for a gridlocked interstate because it represents a real gridiron rivalry with USF.

The UCF Knights celebrate at the goal post at the conclusion of the Nov. 24, 2017, win over USF. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Tampa Bay Times]

So the Civil ConFLiCT’s generic award was an understandable punchline, but it wasn’t the problem. The problem was the fact that UConn seemed to think inventing a trophy and dubbing a game a rivalry would speak it into existence. That’s not how college sports work.

Rivalries don’t start in administrative offices. They start organically, between nearby schools with bitter histories.

Consider the story of another quirky trophy: the little brown jug.

According to Michigan’s library, coach Fielding Yost had a “moment of paranoia” when he arrived at Minnesota in 1903. Fearing Michigan’s water supply could be subject to “shenanigans or tampering by their rivals,” Yost asked a student manager to buy a five-gallon jug. Thirty cents later, a trophy was born —so one team could protect itself from being poisoned by another.

That’s a rivalry.

Even without the paranoia and poison, UConn-UCF was never going to match that kind of intensity. They have no history, and their fans are too far apart.

Florida-Florida State is intense because of their decades of tradition and the fact that Gators and Seminoles fans live in the same neighborhood and shop at the same Publix. The winner can brag for the next 364 days. The only time UCF and UConn alumni intersect is when a Huskies fan visits Epcot.

If all of this sounds obvious, it should. But too often, the sport’s powers-that-be either don’t get it or don’t care.

The last decade of conference realignment has killed or weakened some of college sports’ greatest rivalries: Texas-Texas A&M. Kansas-Missouri. Pitt-West Virginia.

Attempts to replace them have largely failed. LSU-A&M is fine, but it isn’t the same as the Longhorns-Aggies. Although those teams haven’t met in eight years, Texas still scoops Bevo’s manure into a maroon bucket adorned with the logo for A&M.

Eight years from now, UConn and UCF won’t even be thinking about each other, much less scorning each other. The Civil ConFLiCT will be little more than a brief entry on Wikipedia and some recycled jokes on Reddit.

But there’s a chance the demise of the dumbest rivalry in college sports history leaves a meaningful, lasting legacy.

The series is dying because the Huskies realized they strayed too far from their roots. UConn is a basketball school. It belongs with other basketball schools. Returning to the Big East will allow the Huskies to rekindle decades-old rivalries with Georgetown and Villanova — games that mean more to their fans than a football matchup in Orlando ever could.

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Here’s hoping UConn’s decision is the start of an NCAA-wide revelation that the passion, tradition and rivalries that make college sports so special cannot and should not be forced.

Until then, there’s only one resounding positive about the Civil ConFLiCT — the rivalry that never was and was never going to be.

It’s ending.

Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

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