There are things that have to happen in life: Gravity, death, taxes, NC State losing four games. These are all requirements of reality.
Playing rivalry games exactly the same way every year is not a requirement of reality, however. Contracts aren’t forever, and in fact are more flexible than people know. A lot of them even fall under the jurisdiction of states that don’t even have laws, much less respect for contracts. There are options.
1. Decline the game
It might be better for some rivals to take a few years off for one or both parties to get right with Football Jesus.
The simplest way: a return of the third column in the standings. If Team A and Team B are scheduled to play a game, either team may decline the invitation. This is not a loss or a tie, instead a “decline,” the equivalent of voting “present” in a legislature or pleading nolo contendere in court. There’s even academic precedent for this: withdrawing from a course rather than failing it! The Coward’s Column is an ugly place to make a mark, but for some teams, it might be preferable to suffering through a game.
The decline is like the Quit option in online Madden matches. It counts as a win for the non-coward, but as officially recorded shame for the quitter.
The opposite of declining the game. The twofer doubles down, offering the losing team the option of a rematch while giving the winning team another crack at humiliating their hated nemesis. This is hardly a new option, or even a crazy one: Liberty and New Mexico State have taken up playing twice a year, and Lehigh and Lafayette faced each other twice during World War II when scheduling options ran dry for both schools.
What possible advantage could there be for the winning team in the second installment? Only an opportunity to replace your cash game with a game that will actually sell, as well as a possible boost to strength of schedule one might need down the stretch.
If LSU-Alabama — a lopsided event for about a decade — is finally an amazing matchup, then why not give it an encore performance? Tell Western Carolina that they should find another way to fund their new weight room.
(Also, the official conference schedule is not an excuse, as Wake Forest and UNC discovered it is still possible to play conference rivals in non-con games.)
3. Twofer II: The jamboree option
Play your rival twice in a calendar year, but do one in spring. Like an NFL scrimmage, except maybe we’ll count it.
4. Twofer III: The distillery option
Like aging bourbon, sometimes both teams — 2008 Washington and 2008 Washington State, for example — need time away from the sun to mature. The option is simple: If both teams believe the quality of play would be better served in the future, then the rivalry may be skipped for one year and played twice the next year. Let that football age before consuming.
5. CASH THE BRIEFCASE
In the event a rival owes your team a game, demand they play it on very short notice — as in no notice whatsoever. Call them, tell them the stadium just got new sod, and that your team is ready to play right now. The other team may not refuse, even if it is 3 a.m. in early June.
Remember: If you owe the other team a game, they may do this to you at any point. Stay ready.
6. Red rover option
Agree to play your rival, but only under the conditions that they may select five players from your team and you five from theirs.
7. The 10-year option to buy
If one team in a rivalry wins 10 in a row, the winning team has the option of playing every remaining game in the rivalry at home until the streak is broken.
The option could include an opt-out window — i.e., if the streak is snapped, the winning team may quit the rivalry altogether.
8. The Conventioneer’s Choice
Both teams agree to play in Las Vegas. Why? Because both teams agree playing in Las Vegas would be more entertaining, especially if luxury suites at the Venetian can be charged to no particular individual.
This might sound just like playing a non-conference game at a neutral site. Clearly, one thinking this missed the most important part, which is “free vacation in Las Vegas.”
9. The second’s choice
Dueling, while stupid, had its merits.
One of them was the use of confidantes who made sure things were fair, attempted to negotiate a peaceful resolution, and to perhaps start shooting at each other in order to resolve the situation themselves.
If one or both teams feel playing the game would be intolerably detrimental to their welfare, then allow them to call on someone to take their places.
It works like this.
Each team must choose a second. The second should be someone the primary team has an affinity for and/or proximity to, but does not directly compete against in football. For a Power 5 team, this could be a school in a non-power conference or robust FCS school with a robust program. For instance, Clemson could select Furman. Alabama could select North Alabama, which is further from Tuscaloosa than the boys at UAB, but Alabama will be damned if they ever recognize the upstart that uses the devil’s lapdog as its logo in the big, evil city.
The second can then choose whether to accept the game. Compensation rules are in effect. The first must compensate the second for any needed schedule adjustments further down the line.
This might seem too easy an out for a team looking not to be annihilated. To be clear: It is. There is no getting around the cowardice of one team sending another team to show up and take a beating.
On the other hand, is there anything funnier in theory than Alabama challenging Auburn to a duel at the appointed hour of the Iron Bowl, then watching Troy pull up to the stadium instead? For one party to show up frothing and ready to deliver the asskicking of a lifetime, and the other to send a proxy and an apologetic note on nice stationery?
It is hilarious cowardice, and I want it to be real so badly, I’d consider running for office on this idea alone.
P.S. I am also open to the idea of seconds having thirds, and their fourths having fifths, and this continuing until we have NAIA Concordia-Ann Arbor vs. Cincinnati Christian deciding Michigan vs. Ohio State in the Big House. Live on Fox!
10. The rollover option (aka the ACC special)
If things become too heated, let another sport settle the score. Do Duke and UNC really want to sit outside and play football on a fall night when they could be studying or, in UNC’s case, pretending to study? Absolutely not.
Let both teams skip football and instead count the result from an additional UNC-Duke basketball game, a sport most people at both schools actually feel passionately about and attend. USC-Cal could opt out for an additional water polo match and avoid the ugly sight of USC-Cal football. Iowa-Nebraska could skip straight to something everyone in both fanbases prefers anyway: a wrestling meet.
11. The troops option
Opt out of a sure loss and instead call in the Marines. Literally, do it. Navy will maintain an emergency travel squad just for this purpose.
They would come in and fight your rival in a matter of 48 hours because a.) they like a challenge, and b.) it’s deploying a small, efficient team in an ambush of larger, less organized forces, basically field work for course credit here.
If Navy won’t, then Army or Air Force would likely leap at the chance to play one half of a major rivalry on short notice. They’d all likely cover, too — if not outright beat a team playing on short notice against the dreaded triple option.
12. Postpone The Rivalry Indefinitely, Pining For Just a Text From Your Nemesis While Insisting You Don’t Miss Them, You Don’t Even Consider Them A Rival, Saying This All To The Moon On a Cool Spring Night While Hoping Your Phone Buzzes With Just a Simple Word From Them In Recognition Of Your Eternal Bond
Seems messy and fraught, but y’all do you, okay?