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ARLINGTON, Texas — On a September Saturday in 2022, the Southwest Conference had itself a weekend. In Dallas, SMU had a record crowd on hand to greet the traitor Sonny Dykes, who had jumped ship to rival TCU, only to watch the Horned Frogs come away with the Iron Skillet in their 101st meeting.

Just 24 miles away, Texas A&M knocked off a top-10 Arkansas in their 79th two-step together, in a weird, tense game that typifies their matchups since their old rivalry resumed at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. And in Lubbock, another 336 or so miles from Arlington, Texas Tech upset No. 22 Texas in front of the Red Raiders’ first sellout crowd since 2018, and many of the 60,975 in attendance flooded the field in the aftermath.

Now, the SWC hasn’t existed since 1996, but the passion will never die, despite attempts to kill it. On one Saturday in Texas, there were three games with three packed stadiums amid an attendance crisis for administrators at many schools, a reminder that sometimes it’s more fun to play someone with a little extra hate on the line.

Since the SWC’s breakup, TCU has played in four conferences (WAC, Conference USA, Mountain West and now, the Big 12) while SMU was aligned in the WAC and CUSA before landing in the American. Still, despite their nomadic journeys in search of future relevance, they’ve managed to maintain a regional rivalry for more than a century.

“I think it makes sense for teams that are close to each other to play each other,” Dykes said two weeks ago when the drumbeat started for his return to Dallas. “You know, that’s why it makes so much sense for USC to be in the Big Ten … they’re right there next to each other.”

Dykes’ sarcasm comes at a time when realignment continues to pull at the strings of college football’s fabric, breaking up long-standing rivalries and making it harder for fans to get to, or even care about, games. The Iron Skillet — once so celebrated that legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice called the 1935 edition the “Game of the Century” — has no guarantee of continuing past 2024 when the current contract ends.

As leagues go to more conference games and athletic budgets are determined by home games, Power 5 teams like TCU don’t often make trips to Group of 5 schools, so TCU might opt to ditch playing in Dallas every other year, when it could schedule another home game. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State have already made it clear Bedlam will not continue when the Sooners leave for the SEC, just like the Texas A&M-Texas rivalry has been dormant since the Aggies headed Southeast.

Texas Tech’s upset this weekend came in what very well could be Texas’ last trip to Lubbock with the Longhorns’ impending SEC move, likely ending a series that has been played 72 times.

Dykes understood the appeal of his return, saying “I’d boo me too” in the week before the game. It was a boon for SMU, with the Mustangs selling more than 35,000 tickets at a place that has struggled to draw big crowds. And while the stadium never quite filled in part due to the searing heat, the middle of SMU’s campus which was packed with tailgaters along the Boulevard.

“The energy, the excitement, you just can’t replicate that,” said Rogge Dunn, an attorney and SMU fan. “We’re not in the Big 12. We’re not in the Southwest Conference. All our traditional rivals are gone. It’s hard to get up for UAB or East Carolina. The great thing about this rivalry is it’s so close.”

Down the Boulevard, at a tent selling red shirts with “TCU SUCKS” on them, Chipper Haynes, a 2003 SMU grad, lamented the possible demise of a game that’s circled on his calendar every year.

“It means everything to us,” Haynes said. “That’s probably what breaks my heart the most about the big realignment stuff is you lose these huge rivalries. We’ve made these shirts for the last 20 years. The idea that we might not play TCU coming up because of realignment and everything going on, it sucks. It takes part of the spirit of college football away.”

Dykes agreed, saying in his postgame news conference he knew the fans would be up for his return and give him their best shot.

“I thought that stuff off the field was college football,” Dykes said. “That’s why this game was well-attended. That’s why Kansas is sold out today. That’s why Texas A&M-Arkansas is sold out at JerryWorld, that’s why we’re sold out next week. Because it’s just so exciting. It’s great for the fans. Sometimes it’s hard to be the brunt of some of that. But you’ve got a job to do.”

He said he was happy to get this week behind him, but that he was able to focus on the game and not the emotion around it.

“I’m 52 years old. … If I can’t do that, I need to go work for Ricky Chicken over at Chicken Express,” he said, in a reference to fast-food chicken magnate Ricky Stuart II, a TCU trustee.

At Jerry Jones’ house in Arlington, as Dykes mentioned, the Aggies and Razorbacks met in a series that ended in 1991 when the Hogs left the SWC for the SEC, then returned as a neutral-site game in 2009. Both schools are eager to get the series back on campus starting in 2025 now that it has become a heated conference game with the potential to sell lots of tickets.

While the Aggies and the Hogs never had the hate for each other that they each had for the Longhorns before the end of the SWC, their SEC era has been inflamed by their proximity as Arkansas’ enrollment has grown. In 2021, 6,720 of Arkansas’ 24,265 undergraduate students were Texans.

Texas A&M grad Tommy Shiflett and his daughter Logan, one of those Texans who is a freshman at Arkansas, walked the concourse Saturday together with their split allegiances on their shirts.

“It’s a bigger rivalry now because she had 12 months of talking noise to me, and I need it back,” Shiflett said in reference to the Razorbacks ending the Aggies’ nine-game winning streak in the series last year. “I need to be able to run my mouth a little bit. That’s why there’s just the two of us here. The rest of the family isn’t here.”

Logan, for her part, couldn’t handle the Aggies having the lead. “I can’t do this right now,” she said, with a laugh.

Yet, even as a newcomer, Logan agreed that rivalries are fun. Arkansas fans even booed a dog — Texas A&M’s mascot, Reveille — when she was shown on Jerry Jones’ giant video screen. And still, all the Ags and Hogs in the place could come together as one when the highlights from Texas’ loss to Texas Tech got the big-screen treatment, leading to one of the biggest cheers of the night.

In places like Texas, where rivalries that go back more than 100 years are in danger of being lost — if they’re not already — there’s more at stake than just wins and losses. Houston and Rice met for the 44th time Saturday for the Bayou Bucket, another crosstown rivalry that is scheduled only through 2023 and might not continue with Houston moving to the Big 12.

“In the state of Texas, you want to be No. 1,” said Drew Hogan, a TCU fan at the SMU game. “It doesn’t matter what game it is, who it is, you want to win for bragging rights at dinner.”

John Jenkins, the flamboyant coach who was best known for beating SMU 95-21 while with Houston in 1989, the Mustangs’ first season back from the NCAA “death penalty,” grew up in the Panhandle of Texas, coached at every level in the state and was in attendance for the Aggies’ win over his alma mater, Arkansas.

“Playing my high school ball in Texas, coaching high school football in Texas right on up through the college ranks and pro football, it means everything to me, with the attached rivalries that you’ve had in this state,” Jenkins said. “To see this thing get splintered and fragmented just really hurts. It’s ridiculous. Doesn’t matter, doesn’t make a damn about rivalries or football strength. It’s all about media markets.”

As the Big Ten grabs USC and UCLA to get those elusive markets, followed by whatever comes next in the realignment derby, there will be more tradition lost.

“I realize that with some of the megaconferences now, they’re gonna have fewer nonconference games,” Dunn said. “But there’s still room for these games. They may have other agendas, but this is what the fans want.”

Even new die-hards who didn’t grow up with the sport, like Tony Simulik, a Canadian from Ottawa who was drawn to college football’s passion, are concerned about the future.

Simulik travels to SEC country each year to take in big games. He came to Arlington hoping to see the Aggies and Hogs play in the Cowboys’ stadium, saying “it was just an astonishing experience.”

“It’s like cultural history,” he said. “It’s iconic. The fans, the chants, the singing, the activity. That’s already worth the price of admission just to see that and feel that in that stadium. It’s the atmosphere. I’ve often thought at times the game is almost anticlimactic.”

Almost, but not quite, for the tens of thousands of fans who celebrated victories over longtime rivals and, in some cases, wondered if they’d be able to do so again.

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Sources: MAC votes to accept UMass as member

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Sources: MAC votes to accept UMass as member

The University of Massachusetts is set to join the MAC in all applicable sports for the 2025-26 school year, sources told ESPN on Monday.

UMass is an independent in football but plays in the Atlantic-10 in basketball and the vast majority of the school’s other sports. UMass’ hockey program will remain in the Hockey East as the MAC does not have a hockey league.

The MAC presidents voted to invite UMass on Monday, as the school had already formally applied to the league. The timing of an announcement is not known, but UMass is set to accept and finalize the details of the arrangement in the near future. Once a school formally applies in conference realignment, there’s usually an understanding that they will be accepted and enter that league.

UMass had also been engaged with Conference USA, per sources. Ultimately, the MAC made more geographic sense, and it also houses more of the sports that UMass offers. UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford made clear in recent comments that joining a league was a priority for UMass.

The move of UMass to the MAC will leave Notre Dame and Connecticut as the lone independents in college football, with Army set to join the American Athletic Conference in the upcoming season.

In basketball, the news is a jolt to the Atlantic 10 Conference, where UMass has had a home since 1976. UMass’ Final Four appearance in 1996 is the only Final Four appearance in Atlantic 10 history. (Three other A-10 teams — VCU, Loyola Chicago and George Mason — have had Final Four appearances, but these all came prior to joining the league.)

UMass will request to stay in the Atlantic 10 as an affiliate member for men’s and women’s lacrosse only, according to a source.

UMass has some familiarity in the MAC for football, having played four seasons in the league from 2012 to 2015. UMass eventually declined full membership in the MAC, which was part of the contract, and led to the school’s departure.

The move brings the MAC up to 13 teams and will open speculation as to whether the league will add a 14th member for balance. There had been discussions about Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky back in 2021, per sources, and those schools would again top any speculative lists.

UMass will play its final season as a football independent this year, and its schedule includes five current MAC members. The Athletic first reported the MAC’s vote on UMass.

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Dodgers trade Margot to Twins, add Hernández

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Dodgers trade Margot to Twins, add Hernández

The Los Angeles Dodgers on Monday traded outfielder Manuel Margot to the Minnesota Twins and agreed to terms with super utility man Kiké Hernández on a one-year, $4 million contract.

After shopping Margot, 29, in recent days, the Dodgers struck a deal to send the Twins the outfielder and shortstop prospect Rayne Doncon for shortstop prospect Noah Miller. The Dodgers also will send cash to help cover the $12 million owed Margot — $10 million this year and a $2 million buyout on a $12 million club option, a source told ESPN.

Hernández, who emerged during a six-year stint with the Dodgers and returned to Los Angeles in a trade last July, had considered a number of other teams before the trade paved the way for another stretch with the Dodgers.

He’s expected to garner most of his playing time against left-handed pitchers, with Los Angeles’ primary shortstop, Gavin Lux, and center fielder, James Outman, both left-handed hitters.

Now 32, Hernández underwent double hernia surgery in the offseason but is expected to be ready around opening day. Hernández hit .262/.308/.423 in 54 games with the Dodgers last year, more in line with his career numbers than his .222/.279/.320 line with the Twins and .222/.291/.338 showing in an injury-pocked 2022 with Boston.

Margot, an eight-year veteran, had been traded to the Dodgers with right-hander Tyler Glasnow in December. He will help relieve Byron Buxton in center and joins a reigning American League Central champion lineup that is deep in bats. Margot hit .264/.310/.376 with four home runs in 336 plate appearances for Tampa Bay last season and is regarded as a slightly above-average defensive center fielder.

The swap of shortstop prospects sends Doncon, who signed with the Dodgers for a little under $500,000 in January 2021, to Minnesota while Miller, the 36th pick in the amateur draft that year, heads to Los Angeles.

Doncon, 20, hit .216/.283/.368 in Low-A last year and can also play second and third base. Miller, 21, slashed .223/.309/.340 in High-A and is considered a well-above-average defensive shortstop.

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Sources: Iowa State to promote Mouser to OC

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Sources: Iowa State to promote Mouser to OC

Iowa State is set to promote Taylor Mouser to offensive coordinator, part of several staff moves for the offense after Nate Scheelhaase left for the NFL, sources told ESPN on Monday.

Mouser has served as Iowa State’s tight ends coach since 2021 and added an assistant head coach title in 2023. He has been part of coach Matt Campbell’s staff in various roles, on and off the field, throughout Campbell’s tenure with the Cyclones.

Mouser will replace Scheelhaase, ISU’s offensive coordinator in 2023, who recently left to become the passing game specialist for the Los Angeles Rams.

Iowa State also is set to hire Tyler Roehl as running backs coach and assistant head coach, sources told ESPN. Roehl spent the past five seasons as North Dakota State‘s offensive coordinator and was the top internal candidate for NDSU’s head-coaching role. He recently left to become offensive coordinator at Tennessee State.

Jake Waters, who last week was promoted to running backs coach, instead is set to handle the quarterbacks, according to a source. Wide receivers coach Noah Pauley will serve as ISU’s pass game coordinator, and offensive line coach Ryan Clanton will be run game coordinator for the 2024 season.

Mouser served as a graduate assistant under Campbell at Toledo (2015) and Iowa State (2016) before becoming ISU’s assistant director of scouting.

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