• Thu. Nov 24th, 2022

The future of the soccer rivalry between South Carolina and Clemson is secure

Tom Regan is a Wyoming cowboy through and through. He finished his bachelor’s degree at Laramie while playing baseball for the school before they disbanded the program in 1996.

But the last 31 years? Regan, an associate professor at the University of South Carolina and an expert on the economic impact of sport, had a front row seat to what the USC-Clemson game has done for the Columbia region.

“Our priest talks about it in Mass,” Regan joked. “(He’ll say), ‘Well, I guess we have to go inland.’ I used to laugh, our Irish priest in Montana used to talk about Notre Dame. But down here these guys only ever talk about those two schools.”

Those higher powers most involved in the soccer rivalry between South Carolina and Clemson ensure that the game is going nowhere amid the ever-changing landscape of college sports.

The latest threat to the annual showdown comes from conference expansion and the potential impact of a new nine-game Southeastern Conference roster that would force South Carolina to drop one of its four non-conference games.

The changes that could be coming to the USC schedule? We will see.

“Whether it’s Florida-Florida State or Southern Cal-UCLA, different people say they have the biggest rivalry,” South Carolina athletic director Ray Tanner told The State. “I really think we have a great rivalry in many sports. I wouldn’t want it to change in any way.”

There were 118 editions of South Carolina-Clemson, known in various iterations as Big Thursday or, more recently, the Palmetto Bowl. The game was played continuously from 1909 through both world wars until 2020 when it was canceled amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It was the second-longest continuous rivalry in college football behind only Wisconsin-Minnesota.

These competitions have produced men who have become part of Gamecock and Tiger lore. Steve Tanneyhill and Steve Fuller. Stephen Garcia and Woody Dantzler. Moments like “The Prank” and “The Catch” are firmly rooted in the foundation of the series.

In a state without a major professional sports franchise is South Carolina-Clemson the Game.

“Clemson is obviously the rival game in the state we played for? A hundred years or more?” Former South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier told The State. “It’s a huge game. bragging rights for the whole year.”

The 20 foot tall Clemson Tiger bursts into flames during the annual Tiger Burn at the University of South Carolina intramural fields Monday, November 21, 2022 at Charleston Southern University. Students from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers constructed the tiger effigy. Tracy Glantz [email protected]

The Impact of the Clemson-South Carolina Football Game

Rep. Nathan Ballentine groans as he recalls his earliest memories of the Clemson-South Carolina rivalry.

The 1992 USC graduate and member of the South Carolina House of Representatives was in Death Valley in 1980 when Willie Underwood stole two interceptions in Clemson’s takedown of USC and Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers.

“I remember seeing fans twirling rubber chickens as a kid,” Ballentine joked. “And I was like, ‘Oh my god, I can’t stand this place.’ ”

Twenty years after witnessing the loss of the Gamecocks, Ballentine introduced bill H 4525 to the South Carolina General Assembly. It read as follows:


Ballentine’s efforts to ensure the rivalry game is always played, which was defeated 7-0, wasn’t the first time the government has delved into South Carolina-Clemson football competitions. Clemson was placed on probation by the Southern Conference in the early 1950s. As part of their punishment, the Tigers were banned from playing against members of the league — including the Gamecocks.

This was quickly rectified when the South Carolina General Assembly passed a resolution to ensure the USC-Clemson streak continued.

“We call the peanut our state snack and milk is the state drink,” Ballentine told The State. “I think making sure this game gets played is more important than making a peanut the state snack.”

Ballentine’s failure to pass the bill was less a failure than a reflection of the immense intersection between state political institutions, the economic impact of the annual game and its importance to local communities.

Tanner and Regan both estimate that the economic impact on the Columbia metropolitan area is close to $7 million each time Clemson comes to town. Regan notes that this is nearly $1 million more than the average USC football home game draws.

Just scan the ticket prices for this week’s game at Death Valley and you’ll see why. A single ticket in the upper parts of Memorial Stadium was $134 before fees on the secondary market as of Tuesday.

Not to mention the hotel rooms, restaurants and other activities that accompany a football weekend trip that add significant value to local businesses in the Columbia and Greenville-Spartanburg-Anderson areas.

“It’s a national presence for both of our universities,” Tanner said. “It’s a branding opportunity. This does so much for both schools. You cannot pay for this type of advertising. It’s spectacular.”

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney (right) speaks with South Carolina head coach Shane Beamer prior to an NCAA college football game Saturday, November 27, 2021 in Columbia, SC Clemson won 30-0. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford) Sean Rayford AP

The upcoming SEC scheduling changes and what’s next

The SEC has yet to announce official changes to the scheduling format, but it is expected that the league will eventually move from its current eight-game conference schedule to a nine-game format that will feature three permanent opponents for each school and eliminate the current divisional structure would.

Given that Clemson does not fall under SEC jurisdiction, that means one of South Carolina’s three nonconference games in the new format would be played each year against the Tigers.

“The SEC has been looking at how they go from eight league games to nine,” Clemson athletic director Graham Neff said during a meeting with the Orangeburg Touchdown Club, according to the Times and Democrat. “But I can’t think of any circumstance that will cause the rivalry to go away.

“In short, the answer is no. There are four rivalry matches between the [ACC and SEC](Clemson-USC, Georgia Tech-Georgia, Louisville-Kentucky and Florida State-Florida) and all would have an impact.”

USC is believed to be among SEC teams split over the decision to move to nine games, instead preferring the current eight-game conference roster.

South Carolina’s schedule – before adding a ninth SEC game – already ranks among the toughest in college football annually. An SEC slate plus ACC Power Clemson is a challenge in itself. USC also has non-conference games scheduled against other Power Five opponents in eight of the next nine years — including North Carolina, NC State, Miami (Fla.) and Virginia Tech.

However, there is language in the contracts with a handful of South Carolina’s prospective opponents that would give USC wiggle room should the SEC change its current planning structure.

For example, South Carolina’s contract with North Carolina for the 2028 and 2029 Games states that “any requirement issued by the NCAA or respective sports conferences to reduce or limit an institution’s intercollegiate football schedule that makes it impractical to play the Game (p ) will be considered force majeure.” A force majeure clause usually allows a party to break a contract, often without a financial penalty.

USC and Clemson inked a four-year deal in 2021. The schools are currently in the first year of a two-game deal that will see competitions in 2022 and 2023. It doesn’t include any of the above languages, but SEC planning changes likely won’t go into effect until Oklahoma and Texas join the league as early as 2024.

“It does,” SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said at the league’s spring meetings in June on whether non-league rivalry games were included in the scheduling discussions. “We did a good job honoring them.

“You have to remember that Kentucky-Louisville was an early season game over time if you go back and look. It’s now a postseason game. We used to play some rivalry games – I mean conference rivalries – the week before Thanksgiving. We have adapted over time and that is part of the care we take in determining the outcome.”

The South Carolina vs. Clemson game hasn’t been immune to change over the years. For the first 57 years of the rivalry, it was played exclusively in Columbia on Thursdays of State Fair Week—the third Thursday in October—and alternated between USC and Clemson beginning in 1960.

When asked if there was a world where the game could deviate from the current slot at the end of the season, Tanner said he prefers to leave it as is.

“I like where it is, but with the ACC and the SEC there could be movement at both conferences that would put us in a situation where we would have to reconsider planning,” Tanner said. “I’m confident we can stay where we are.”

South Carolina-Clemson week brings out the most devoted fans from both corners of the rivalry. The ones in Clemson hold a ritual called the Cocky’s Funeral. A tiger effigy is burned on the USC campus.

College football is changing. Rivals like Oklahoma-Nebraska and Kansas-Missouri have largely fallen by the wayside. The Backyard Brawl between West Virginia and Pittsburgh returned this fall after an 11-year hiatus.

Aside from the conference’s realignment and changing landscape, South Carolina-Clemson was to remain a focal point of collegiate athletics in Palmetto State — and a popular talking point at the fair.

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Ben Portnoy is the football beat writer for The State’s South Carolina Gamecocks. He is a five-time Associated Press Sports Editors Award recipient and has received recognition from the Mississippi Press Association and the National Sports Media Association. Portnoy previously covered the state of Mississippi for Columbus Commercial Dispatch and Indiana Football for the Journal Gazette at Ft. Wayne, Indiana.