By Spencer Schulman
The passion and intensity of signature rivalry games in college athletics is unmatched by any sport in this country. Marquee rivalries- OSU/Michigan, UCLA/USC Texas/Oklahoma, Duke/UNC, Kentucky/Louisville, Auburn/Alabama, and of course Stanford-Cal are all universally recognized by fans of the NCAA. Most of these rivalries originated on the football field, and Stanford/Cal most certainly falls under that category.
For most power conference schools, football is the flagship sport with the most spectators. The annual Big Game has its counterparts in other sports: the Big Row, the Big Splash, and of course today's Big Tipoff tells us that there is most certainly a mutual disdain across all sports. Today's big tipoff is merely an afterthought for most Bay Area residents.
For the next 48 hours, the Bay Area will be the world's sports capital. The Super Bowl is the most anticipated event in American sports. When it's the 50th anniversary of the game, the spectacle is even greater. In addition, Sunday's contest is most likely the world's final chance to see Peyton Manning lead a fourth quarter comeback.
Of course, SB50 is not the only nationally-anticipated event going on in the area. The Warriors are playing, and these days Dubs games are always appointment television. On Pace to become the best regular-season team in NBA history, and the favorite to repeat as NBA world champions, the Warriors have become the pride and joy of the Bay Area. This is no ordinary game, however. The Oklahoma City Thunder are coming to Oakland, bringing two must-see talents in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
And then there's Stanford-Cal facing off at Haas Pavilion. For many, the mere mention of the two schools evokes visions of the miraculous game-winning kickoff return and the leveled tuba player (hear from a participant of "The Play" here).
A Stanford-Cal matchup in basketball will be buried in this weekends' events, and is unlikely to be seen by a large number of people, either on TV or in person. The game is not even sold out. The Golden Bear's website currently contains an advertisement for baseline and corner seats still available for just $70. On StubHub, close to 200 tickets are available hours before gametime for as low as $25. In contrast, the WCC's St. Mary's-Gonzaga rivalry matchup in Spokane is sold out, and only 15 tickets remain on the resale website with a starting price of $195. That game is over two weeks away.
Though the game will be nationally televised on ESPN2, Maryland/Purdue and Kentucky/Florida start at the same time on ESPN and CBS respectively. Due to concurrent games featuring big-name programs the Bay Area rivalry game won't likely be watched by too many around the country.
Of course, the fact that both teams are having rocky seasons can't be ignored. That most definitely has an impact on fan interest. On the other hand, a 2002 University of North Carolina team, who went 8-20, still packed 23,000 fans into its stadium for their game against heated rival Duke.
The Bay Area has been the beneficiary of an almost inconceivable run of success and championships this decade alone. Three World Series titles (Giants 2010, 2012, 2014), an NBA title (with another one possibly on the way), an NFC Championship (2013 49ers), and Three Pac-12 football Championships (Stanford 2013, 2014, 2016). And please, don't forget about the SaberCats Arena Bowl title (Section925.com was in the locker room to help celebrate).
I challenge you to name a time where so many different titles in multiple sports came to such a small geographical region in such a short time (Boston perhaps?). Sports fans in the Bay Area might be exhibiting symptoms of excessive success. Basketball programs at Stanford and Cal have enjoyed no such success as of late, thus, the Big Tip has slowly become an afterthought around these parts.
Despite the recent struggles of both teams, the history exists on both sides. Both teams have multiple final four appearances, and CAL even has a national championship banner. Additionally, the Bears' second-year coach was able to secure an inexplicably strong recruiting class. Two five-star recruits, both projected as top-10 NBA draft pick, opted to play their college ball in Berkeley.
Stanford is coming off of an NIT title and a Sweet 16 appearance the year before, and head coach Johnny Dawkins is a former Duke assistant under the legendary Mike Krzyzewski. He has won at least 23 games in three of the last four seasons. Both programs appear to be headed in good directions, and the problem isn't outright lack of success, but rather the extraordinary success achieved by other Bay Area teams.
The Bears come into tonight's contest as 8-point favorites, despite losing on The Farm earlier this year, as Cuonzo Martin's club still hasn't lost at home all year. The last time Stanford was in the East Bay, they were over the hill in Moraga, losing to the Gaels of St. Mary's. If CAL expects an invite to the Tournament in March, taking care of business at home versus their rivals is an absolute must, regardless of how full Haas Pavilion happens to be.