UTSA Doesn’t Think So, But Is UTEP It’s Biggest Rival?
When the words came out of Asher Wildman's mouth, mine dropped open.
Before UTSA's first-ever Conference USA game against UTEP in the Sun Bowl two years ago, the former KVIA-TV sports director had been talking with Roadrunners' officials about what I had thought would be -- should be -- a burgeoning rivalry between the two UT System schools.
Wildman said the UTSA staffers were very clear about their feelings on the schools becoming I-10 rivals, and those feelings were: meh.
There were bigger fish to fry for the new boys in San Antonio. Bigger dreams with bigger payouts. Those unnamed athletic officials had Wildman convinced -- which is when he dropped this nugget: "You watch, UTSA will be a member of the Big XII in five years."
I can't remember exactly what I said next as I stifled the overwhelming urge to laugh; but whatever it was, it got the Wild-man to quickly offer another nugget.
I hope Asher's right hand has recovered from the burn inflicted by my desert-dry palm in my eagerness to shake-and-seal.
And here we are again. UTSA is back in the Sun Bowl to take on the Miners and not much has changed.
Three years to go, but I still think I'm a shoo-in for a healthy dinner at a local Mexican restaurant to be named later. Not that San Antonio would know a lot about real Mexican food. They have a hard time getting past the melted Velveeta down there.
Now, don't get upset, Alamoland. I'm just trying to stir the pot of Tex-Mex cheese a bit. It's for your own good. Your shiny new school needs a realistic rivalry because it's never had one before. So does El Paso's U because it used to have some great ones and now it doesn't.
Actually, Conference USA as a whole could use more internecine hatred. In a level of sport rich with mad-dog league rivalries in every corner of the US of A, C-USA is a conference of cats, indifferent and aloof.
I would have thought both schools' athletic departments would want to make this a bigger deal. That Wildman believed that UTSA believes C-USA is a pit stop on the way to greener pastures floored me.
What greener pastures, the AAC?
If it's true, all I can say is, Know your role, UTSA. You're more like UTEP than you realize.
Commuter school? Check. And when it comes to national rep, Minerville has you beat.
Increasing difficulty in getting people's attention? Check.
The Roadrunners started out big, averaging 35,521 fans in their first season of FBS football in 2012; but that number has dropped to 27,576 (around 1,000 fewer than UTEP) in just two years.
Local interest is waning like the second day of a San Antonio vacation.
Sure, winning would help, but the Roadrunners are seeing how difficult it is to gain and keep attention when you've never had it before. To that end, UTEP will always mean more in El Paso than UTSA will in San Antonio.
Want to upset a UTEP official? Ask why, with local stars like Aaron Jones and now Ryan Metz leading the way, the Miners can't get more fans to home games.
Want to upset a UTSA official? Ask him when the Spurs are playing.
Speaking of basketball, watch the Miners the next time they play the Roadrunners in San Antonio. You'll think they're playing in the Don Haskins Center. The loudest groups of fans cheer for UTEP because most of them are either UTEP alumni or ex-El Pasoans living in San Antonio.
Say what you will about El Paso's brain drain, the transplants still feel more for UTEP than their new hometown school.
Miners fans are also a bit incensed that, like those crowds at the basketball games, the Roadrunners seem to be using a lot of UTEP to fill the gaps. Like the hand sign -- it's the same sign! It's the Miner pickaxe turned sideways.
UTSA's is supposed to be a Roadrunner's beak and tail? Looks more like Spock signing Live Long and Prosper after losing his middle digits to a hungry Ferengi.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, we'll hear it now. San Antonio this and River Walk that. For your information, El Paso had a river walk years before San Antonio did. Just hasn't been used as much since they built the fence.
Sure, San Antonio has quite a bit more money to back it's football program than El Paso. It says something that UTSA has been able to build a Division 1-A football program from scratch, and it's gotten competitive faster than you can say "Larry Coker".
But UTSA in the Big XII? I can rain on that parade faster than you can say "Ozzy Osbourne".
The main reason has to do with the first two letters in "UTSA" -- the mother school just 80 miles to the northeast.
Texas A&M doused its burnt orange bonfire and jumped to the SEC to get away from Texas. Nebraska joined the B1G for the same reasons. Both schools could tell any Roadrunner dreamers that, not only does UTSA not rate, the mother university would never, ever, let an upstart program from one of its satellite campuses horn in on its turf, sharing attention and money it believes should come only to Austin.
Coach Coker could turn the Roadrunners into the next Boise State and get seconded for Big XII membership by Oklahoma. The UT System Board of Regents -- the final say for all UT schools -- would still say, "Meh."
So, take it easy UTSA. You have a program with a good coach in a conference offering solid exposure and an opportunity to stoke some in-state rivalries.
If you ever get tired of the Cheez-Whiz Tex-Mex and want to try something with real chile and some bite, El Paso is ready to help. You'll be here every other year for football, anyway.