Academic journal article Journal of Contemporary Athletics

Rivalry among Teams and Conferences in Intercollegiate Athletics: Does a Conference Pride Phenomenon Exist?

Academic journal article Journal of Contemporary Athletics

Rivalry among Teams and Conferences in Intercollegiate Athletics: Does a Conference Pride Phenomenon Exist?

Article excerpt

Introduction

For a long time fans of intercollegiate athletics have argued the merits of their favorite teams compared to rival teams and opponents within a conference and on the national stage. This can be explained by social identity theory (SIT), which states that people will display in-group bias in order to have their group positively compare to others, through which they can also positively compare to others on an individual basis (Festinger, 1954, Tajfel, 1974). In this SIT example, the team a person follows represents an in-group, and opposing or rival teams represent various out-groups. Additionally, a conference that a team belongs to can also represent a larger in-group for a fan (Havard, Wann, & Ryan, 2013). For this reason, it makes sense that fans also argue the merits of the conference their favorite teams belongs to, displaying in-group bias against comparable conferences. One example of such behavior is the SEC, SEC chant by fans near the end of a victorious football game played between schools of the Southeastern Conference (SEC) and other affiliated conferences.

The belief that a fan's favorite team competes in a prestigious or comparably superior conference, whether academic or athletic, can drive many fans to voice their support of the associated conference (extended in-group) and derogation of other conferences (out-group). In fact, fans in conferences across the NCAA landscape identify an aspect of their conference to argue superiority over others, whether that is football in the SEC, basketball in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), or academics in the Big Ten, which raises the question whether such a phenomenon as conference pride exists in intercollegiate athletics.

Investigation into conference pride is compounded by the recent conference realignment phenomenon in intercollegiate athletics, in which many schools chose to change their conference affiliation. For example, Texas A&M University and the University of Missouri left the Big 12 Conference (Big 12) to join the SEC in 2012. In reaction, the Big 12 added Texas Christian University from the Mountain West Conference, along with West Virginia University from the Big East Conference. Many administrators claim that changing conferences will positively impact the school, and much of the public discussion on conference realignment has focused on the amount of revenue a team can receive by joining a new conference. Qualitative investigation with fans of teams changing athletic conferences found they believed their favorite team was joining a more prestigious conference than the one the team was leaving (Havard & Eddy, 2013). Further, the authors found that the level of conference pride fans exhibited during conference realignment almost exclusively was directed toward the new conference and fans typically derogated the conference the favorite team was leaving. Additionally, fans of teams changing athletic conferences showed less animosity toward an anticipated rival in the conference their favorite team was joining than the current rival in the conference the team was leaving (Havard, Wann et al., 2013).

However, currently no research exists that empirically identifies a conference pride phenomenon. Asking fans their perceptions of the conference their favorite team competes in may yield interesting results, but more in-depth investigation into such a potential phenomenon should be conducted. One possible place to begin investigation into the presence of a conference pride phenomenon would be to measure how fans feel about the opposing and rival teams within their favorite team's conference. This chapter is such a beginning, and measures whether significant differences in fan perceptions of the biggest rival exist between various favorite teams and conferences in intercollegiate athletics. Investigating these questions will allow researchers to determine if further study into fan differences in rival perceptions exist among intercollegiate athletics conferences is warranted, and will also assist practitioners to identify differences in rival perceptions among intercollegiate athletics teams and conferences. …

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