Tulsa and North Texas Should Learn From Their IFL Counterparts

Frisco and Tulsa's Indoor Football League teams started a rivalry trophy. North Texas and Tulsa's history with one another shows they should follow suit.

The Frisco Fighters and Tulsa Oilers began playing for a rivalry trophy last weekend.
Source: Frisco Fighters Twitter

Rivalry games make college football special. Everyone knows this. Rivalry games with trophies at stake are even more sacred. The American Athletic Conference, a league as geographically ambiguous as its namesake, lacks rivalries, much less those with trophies at stake.

The league is a hodge-podge of national brands and schools with Power Five aspirations. The schools are so disconnected that aside from the time-tested Army-Navy Game, the most-played series in the conference is the Memphis-Tulane series, with only 41 meetings to its name.
Strangely, the league can find inspiration in the least likely source, the Indoor Football League.

The Frisco Fighters and the Tulsa Oilers of the Indoor Football League played for a Boot Trophy for the first time on Saturday. Their rivalry, now branded as "The Red River Rumble", adds a fun twist to a league lacking rivalries. The Tulsa Oilers and Frisco's equivalents in the American Athletic Conference are the Tulsa Golden Hurricane and North Texas Mean Green. Despite both school's different paths to the AAC, a trophy game between the two makes sense.

North Texas and Tulsa's campuses are 273 miles apart. Tulsa is the ideal rival for North Texas, especially after their DFW counterpart, SMU, fled to the ACC. Tulsa also needs a rival within the AAC. The Golden Hurricane joined Tulane as the only two schools in the 14-team league without a permanent rival when the AAC announced its scheduling model last year. Tulsa will likely replace SMU as North Texas' permanent rival.

The two schools also have a shared history. Both schools may have taken far different paths to get to the AAC, but they were long-time conference mates at one point. Before North Texas voyaged through the Big West and Sun Belt, and Tulsa from the Western Athletic Conference and Conference USA, North Texas and Tulsa resided in the Missouri Valley Conference together from 1957-1975. The two met on the gridiron 18 times as conference mates.

Both schools' years in the Missouri Valley Conference seem like a footnote now, yet the school's most legendary players played in that era. Mean Joe Greene began his path to becoming one of the greatest defenders in NFL history at North Texas from 1966 to 1968. Tulsa's passing combination of Jerry Rhome, Bill Anderson, and Howard Twilley revolutionized the game from 1963 to 1965. A trophy honoring the link between both school's Missouri Valley Conference years and its greatest players would bring this series to life.

Finally, the AAC needs rivalries. The AAC's schools hardly have any rivalries or shared history. Regional rivalries exist, but most involve the conference's youngest programs. Charlotte-ECU and UTSA-North Texas have potential, but Charlotte and UTSA's football programs did not exist before 2010. Despite having only 25 meetings, the North Texas-Tulsa series has a history with roots in a much different and simpler time in collegiate athletics.

The AAC must learn from the Indoor Football League and embrace rivalries. If an upstart alternative league recognizes the value of rivalries, a college football conference should. Adding a trophy to North Texas-Tulsa would make it one of the conference's preeminent rivalries. Creating trophies for new rivalries is nothing new. Look at the Civil ConFLiCT. It would also allow each fanbase to embrace their school's history. Sometimes, inspiration comes from the most unlikely sources, and the Indoor Football League may be the source of that inspiration for the American.