You know ball? The potential for new rivalries on the Mountain

The Liberty Flames just might have their first true rivals in a long time. In this school’s history, there has never really been one team that Liberty can call a true rival in the sports realm, other than Coastal Carolina. Since the Flame’s exit from the Big South in 2018, and since their defeat of the Chanticleers in the 2020 Cure Bowl, the teams haven’t seen each other on the field. 

I know what you’re probably thinking, “But we still hate Coastal, and we still have that #beatcoastal slogan.” And you have a point. But can a rivalry be a rivalry if the two teams almost never play each other? My answer is no. And for this reason, Coastal Carolina cannot be listed as a rival to the Flames. Are they a nemesis? Sure. But not a rival, not anymore. 

The first true rival in Liberty’s recent history is one that ruined the Flames shot at the big dance not even a month ago – just weeks after the Owls beat the Flames in regular season play. The Kennesaw State Owls, who defeated the Flames 67-66 in the ASUN Championship game, have everything you look for in a rival. They match, or maybe even outclass, the Flames’ talent on the basketball court. 

On the football field, the Flames have won two of the three games the two schools have played, but the most recent outcome was a Flames loss 42-28 at home in 2017. And the best reason the Owls are the perfect rival for the Flames is the simple fact that there is no love lost between the athletes and the opposing fandoms. 

Now you may be saying, “Aaron, you’re being self-contradictory. If we can’t be rivals with Coastal because we never play them, how can we be rivals with Kennesaw? We’re moving to CUSA next season, and they’re not.” If that is your line of thinking, you’d be absolutely correct. Save for the interesting fact that Kennesaw St. is also transferring to the CUSA in the summer of 2025. So not only will the Flames be meeting the Owls on the hardwood at least once per season, but it is also more than likely that they would meet on the football field as well. 

So, Kennesaw, who ruined the Flames’ shot at March Madness, who has a legitimately talented basketball program, who has an on-the-rise football program and who dislikes the Flames as much as the Flames dislike them, will be following the Flames to their new conference and will be seeing them multiple times a year in a few different sports. Sounds like a rivalry to me, and that might be one of the best things to happen to Liberty sports in a good bit. 

Rivalries are one of the best things in sports. They give fans something extra to root for on a given gameday, which gets fans in seats and glues them to the tv. Obviously, that’s good for the schools and the networks showing the games, but it’s worth more than that. 

For example, look at the NFL. Every NFL fanbase has that one team they just hate. Like how Cowboys fans hate the Eagles. And Eagles fans hate the Cowboys. And Giants fans hate the Cowboys. And Commanders fans hate the Cowboys. Cowboys jokes aside, the way that the NFL is able to cultivate rivalries is an excellent way to keep viewership and to make games worth more than the typical Sunday matchup. Eagles’ fans for as long as I can remember have turned the week leading up to an Eagles-Cowboys matchup into something they call “Dallas week.” The hype surrounding the rivalry turns the game into something more than just another game. 

Now imagine that for Liberty. Imagine the days leading up to a Flames-Owls matchup in football, basketball or some other sport becoming “Owl’s week.” Imagine the energy in the Liberty Arena for another heated game between the two CUSA powerhouses. Imagine how incredible a true rivalry would be for this school.

Palsgrove is the asst. sports editor for the Liberty Champion. Follow him on Twitter

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