COLUMN: Appreciate the KWC rivalry while you can

Zane Clodfelter

The ever-changing college landscape has created a situation where longtime rivalries are put aside for monetary gain. Universities are leaving conferences at all levels of the NCAA for bigger paychecks, letting historic rivalries fade.

Southern Indiana and Kentucky Wesleyan haven’t let the Panthers departure from the Great Lakes Valley Conference (GLVC) this past off-season eliminate the rivalry, which dates back to the late 1960s. This season, USI and KWC will meet twice on the hardwood like the two did as conference members. Conference standings will not be impacted by Tuesday’s result or by their return trip to the Physical Activities Center on campus Dec. 21. These games are simply for bragging rights.

The story has been well documented. KWC decided to leave the GLVC for the newly-created Great Midwest Athletic Conference. This was due to the Panthers’ athletic teams, besides the men’s and women’s basketball, being non-competitive in a much more difficult GLVC. While the Panthers had stellar finishes in both men’s and women’s basketball on an annual basis, other athletic programs at KWC were struggling. They were often the last place finisher in the GLVC. KWC was willing to trade good basketball for competitiveness in its other NCAA sports, putting the long standing “Battle for the Bridge” trophy match-up against USI in jeopardy.

Thankfully, the two schools were able to reach a deal this season to play a home-and-home series. But as we look ahead to the future, there are no guarantees that the two programs will meet even once, let alone twice like this season. So appreciate the fact that for at least one more season, these two Division II powerhouse programs, within 45 minutes of each other, will still face off for bragging rights.

USI Head Coach Rodney Watson appreciated it, too, as his team prepared to face KWC earlier this week.

“I think it is important to keep a college rivalry going, there are so few of them,” Watson said. “I would hate to see that rivalry go away.”

While USI has developed other rivalries and heated match-ups against GLVC foes like Bellarmine or Drury, nothing compares to the Eagles’ games against KWC. It’s the “they don’t like us, we don’t like them” type of rivalry that no matter the record or situation for both teams, the intensity is felt on both sides. Not to mention the terrific fan base for both schools only adds to the tremendous game day environment.

Sadly, the return trip in this series at USI falls during winter break, when most of the campus population will be away celebrating the holiday season with family. But if you’re in Evansville, do yourself a favor and come back to watch the Panthers and Eagles face off for what could be the last time.

It’s anyone’s guess, at the moment, when the two teams will face each other after this season, so watch one of the greatest Division II rivalries while you still opportunity to appreciate this legendary match-up.