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Morgan McMullen

Vinton Newspapers sports editor Morgan McMullen spent the past two years covering various sports at the University of Florida for the Independent Florida Alligator and the Orlando Sentinel.

A thought occurred to me a few days ago as I scrambled to look for tickets to tomorrow’s game between Iowa and Iowa State. Outside of the obvious “I’m not paying $200 to attend a game while local volleyball teams are playing,” I had one other issue to deal with.

Who should I root for?

I’m fresh to the Cy-Hawk rivalry. I’ve grown up with Iron Bowls and Sunshine State Showdowns, so I’m not oblivious to the blind hatred one can have for a cross-state school for one day a year (or possibly more if you’re petty enough). In order to fully enjoy tomorrow’s matchup, I feel as if I need to pick a side. But I need to become petty for a good reason.

That’s where I’m at a loss. Without having attended either school, I have no rational basis on which to make a judgement. Don’t get me wrong, I’m naturally petty. Nevertheless, I sought input.

I asked my coworkers here at Vinton Newspapers the other day who I should root for, and why. I was tempted to go with Iowa State at first. Both my Southeastern Conference loyalties – Auburn and Florida – have been looked upon as the underdog in most of their recent games against Alabama and Florida State. I’m naturally drawn to underdog teams as it is, especially when it comes to college athletics. Chaos in sports is my drug of choice.

So I should go for ISU, right? After all, outside of their +2 point spread, the Cyclones most closely resemble the pair of major schools I’ve attended. Iowa State has the second-best undergrad program for agricultural engineering in the nation, according to U.S. News. Engineering makes up 21 percent of the majors students choose at ISU, while it’s 19 percent at Auburn and 13 percent at UF.

Demographically and philosophically, it makes sense to choose the Cyclones as my surrogate team. But what about the Hawkeyes?

Well, seven percent of students choose journalism and related programs as their major, compared to just four percent for ISU. I support kids learning the ropes of the modern media landscape, and there seems to be more appreciation of that aspect in Iowa City while comparing favorably to my alma mater in UF’s eight percent.

My predecessor here, Dustin Dawson, is a huge Iowa fan. One of my colleagues at the Traer Star-Clipper, CJ Eilers, is hardcore Iowa State.

That all amounts to a wash to me. Sure, I’ll be paying attention to the game tomorrow. I’ll even be a little excited come crunch time should the score be close. Part of me doesn’t want to interfere, to just appreciate the game from afar as an impartial observer.

All this is to say I need a different formula to coagulate a fandom.

When I hear people’s opinions on different college programs, I listen more to their critiques of their own alma maters than their praises. Having the fortitude to criticize your school while still supporting it means you can sometimes excuse its faults for the sake of unity. It’s like telling your significant other their laugh sounds worse than a hyena with a sore throat but still taking them to a comedy show.

Maybe that’s the route to go should you still be looking for a rooting interest. I need to ask supporters of each school what they’re most ashamed of from their university. Ask them what they believe needs fixing. For my Gators, more accountability in the student government (an institution entrusted with a $20 million budget with no oversight) and more inclusiveness in their faculty are needed.

So let me hear your gripes. What does your school need to do better? How is your university actively failing its student body and alumni base? And despite all of that, why do you still support your Cyclones or Hawkeyes?

If you can convince me by 3 p.m. tomorrow, I’ll gladly support your team. Until then, I’m rooting for chaos.