Rivalry: the missing element of Wash. U. school spirit?

It can seem difficult to be enthusiastic about Wash. U. sports. The average Stereotypes concert probably draws eight times as many people as the average football game. Because I grew up in the Deep South, a land dominated by college football, this was a big adjustment for me coming to college. If you ask a typical Wash. U. student why our enthusiasm for our education and extracurriculars does not carry over to supporting our sports teams, most would give you the same answer—we’re too small. Nobody cares about Division III athletics. However, I beg to differ. Many other small, elite schools pack the stands every night, and it is because they have the one thing Wash. U. does not: an intense rivalry with another school.

The Ivy League schools are comparable to Wash. U. in terms of size, academic rigor and diversity of student bodies. However, ask any Harvard alum what he thinks of Yale’s football team (or the university as a whole), and he’ll respond the way any self-respecting sports fan would—by tearing into his rival with every bit of viciousness in his heart and unquestioningly defending every aspect of his own university. The Ivy League has a rich tradition of intense rivalry between the schools. This tradition fuels their athletics programs even though they are not relevant on the national stage.

It goes deeper than sports; the Ivy League rivalries fuel intense pride among students and alumni that leads to increased visibility on the national stage. Caltech and MIT barely have sports programs to speak of, but they still have an unwavering rivalry sustained through elaborate pranks. This prank rivalry builds a culture of solidarity similar to that of a big-time sports school.

This sense of rivalry-fueled solidarity could be the only thing keeping Wash. U. from becoming one of the most respected five or ten schools in the country. A stronger sense of school pride leads to a more noticeable national presence and more committed alumni. For example, an alumnus who is very proud of his school and, perhaps more importantly, determined to prove its superiority, is much more likely to make a big scholarship donation.

Maybe what Wash. U. needs is a good old-fashioned rival whom we can bad-mouth, someone who will sell out Francis Field every time its team comes to play the Wash. U. football team, someone to trash on Internet message boards, someone to play absurd pranks on, someone to steal mascots from, someone to raise our children from birth to hate as much as we do, but, ultimately, someone who we cannot only hate but also respect: a rival who is truly our equal in academics, athletics and reputation.

A potential candidate could be the University of Chicago—the two schools are very similar and not that far apart. The football team already has a decent rivalry with them for the Founder’s Cup, and their own website says their “most heated sports rivalry is […] Washington University.” Fostering a competitive rivalry rooted in both hatred and respect with a school like UChicago could be great for building solidarity at Wash. U.

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