"Big intersectional tilt" was a favored sports-page clich� years ago when, except for Notre Dame and a few other venturesome schools, college football teams played most of their games against teams from their own backyards. When a Georgia, say, went north to play Yale (that really happened! Bulldog vs. Bulldog, in an era when neither dog was clearly top dog), or when little St. Mary's of California, a football power then, went all the way to New York to play Fordham, another power, that was news. The intersectional element gave the early bowl games their glamour: the best of the East vs. the best of the West in the Rose Bowl, for example, even though the "East" team was often from the South.
The rapid development of air travel, particularly by jet, changed all that, and it became common practice for many teams to play two or three games a season with far-off schools. An intersectional tilt became just another game on the schedule.
Now, however, the tide is turning. Flying a college football team thousands, or even hundreds, of miles has become increasingly expensive. Coach Jackie Sherrill of Pittsburgh says that it cost his team $70,000 to go back and forth to the Coast for a game with Washington in 1979. Pitt's share of the take covered that and a little more, but, Sherrill says, "We could have stayed at home and played anybody and made twice as much money as we did going to Washington."
When Penn State flew to Missouri four years ago it cost about $25,000. Coach Joe Paterno says it would cost about $75,000 today, which may explain why Penn State canceled its series with Missouri. Missouri, in turn, terminated games with San Diego State, as has West Virginia with San Jose State. Washington and Miami of Florida agreed to drop their home-and-home series, and Baylor abandoned plans to meet Stanford and Syracuse.
"We'd like to reduce our travel schedule," says Paterno, whose Nittany Lions still have numerous, intersectional games on tap. "We're trying to get things going for an Eastern football conference." Michigan State, which barely broke even after having to spend $68,000 flying out to play Oregon last year, is also looking nearer home for games. It took a step in that direction last season when it booked unglamorous but neighboring Western Michigan for the first time in almost 60 years.
It's an interesting development, and maybe a welcome one, even though it's like turning back the clock. The Notre Dames and Southern Californias will continue to scoot all over the country for games, but perhaps in a decade or so, when a Purdue ventures a few hundred miles south to play a Tennessee, headlines once again will blare: INTERSECTIONAL TITANS CLASH.