Baseball and softball end rivalry

Writer Robert Heard once said, "Never ask a man where he is from. If he is from Texas, he'll tell you. If he's not from Texas, there's no point in further embarrassing him."

That is the pride that exists in the hearts of Texas people. It is the heart that pumps love and hatred into rivalries.

It's some of that pride and more heart than head that has led to the conclusion of the bitter rivalry between the University of Texas and Texas A&M. The end is here. Texas A&M opened its final softball series against Texas with a 9-0 win in College Station on Thursday. The two schools' baseball teams step to the rubber for the last time beginning Friday in College Station. Both sports will wrap up their series over the weekend in Austin, and only team competitions in golf and track and field will remain.

Texas and Texas A&M have met between the chalk on the football field 117 times, including 63 times on Thanksgiving Day. It is one of the longest-running rivalries in college football and the longest rivalry between the two schools.

It was just over a decade ago, in 1999, when both campuses united under the Texas flag when the Aggie Bonfire collapsed during the final week of construction, killing 12 Texas A&M students. Some perspective had come to the rivalry. The Longhorn Band played "Amazing Grace" and "Taps" in remembrance of the fallen Aggies during the game in College Station that year.

Now the two schools' officials cannot stand to be in the same room with one another, let alone the same conference.

Both schools reference the rivalry in their fight songs, and their intensity in sports and stress in great academics has added to the pool of traditions for both schools. They need each other.

The Aggies won that game in 1999. In the wake of the tragedy and after the emotionally charged game, then-Texas A&M president Ray Bowen said of UT, "They came to us in a way no one could have expected. We love them for doing that."

Now, simply, the love is gone. And the rivalry is almost gone. The combined five baseball and softball games are it for the foreseeable future.

In July, Texas A&M will officially become a member of the Southeastern Conference. Texas will have two new conference mates in the Big 12 with TCU and West Virginia replacing the Aggies and the University of Missouri, also heading to the SEC.

There are no current plans for the schools to schedule each other in any team sport. Even the Aggies' competition at the Texas Relays could be in jeopardy.

While Texas A&M has been very open about its desire to continue playing the Longhorns, Texas has given no indication that it is willing to put the Aggies on the schedule. Both desires are understood. Texas A&M would like to continue the rivalry because it would keep the Aggies in the statewide conversation with the flagship university. Texas feels jilted. The Longhorns and the Aggies ate Thanksgiving football together for years. The Aggies asked for a divorce and talked bad about the Longhorns on the way out of the door. Texas won't invite the Aggies to Thanksgiving football anymore.

Sadly, the rest of the sports will follow suit.

Texas A&M made a great decision for the university. As long as it was in the same conference as Texas, it would be one step behind. Was it a pride decision? Was it an ego decision? Was it doing something it did not feel comfortable doing in order to have a chance at greatness? It is easy enough for pundits to banish the Aggies to a future not too dissimilar from the fate Arkansas has lived. The Razorbacks have been average at best and have enjoyed a win percentage some 20 points lower than their win percentage in the old Southwest Conference.

It's also naive to think that the rivalry will not resume in any sport. When it will is the question. The tough answer is that it likely won't happen until Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds retires.

For baseball and softball, it might be easier to fit in the rivalry, but for football, it's hard to find a scenario where it would be advantageous for the Longhorns to schedule the Aggies for anything other than state pride. When you factor in recruiting, egos, schedule conflicts and established strength of schedule, state pride and bragging rights take a backseat.

Hopefully the Lone Star Showdown doesn't go the way of the Iron Bowl. A dispute over game expenses suspended the Alabama and Auburn rivalry from 1908 to 1947. The Alabama House of Representatives had to step in with a resolution to reinstate the rivalry. The schools were arguing over less than $50. Can you say ego?

State pride and school pride carry so much in Texas. Whether it's on the baseball or softball diamond or the track or football field, it would be a shame for these two great institutions to wait 39 years like Auburn and Alabama to meet again.