When one considers how many blows the college sports industry has taken in the last year, the fact that the first Pac-12 Championship football game Friday will feature a 6-6 team that lost its last game 50-0 and already has fired its coach, is barely a scratch.
It is neither a violation of criminal law nor NCAA rules to be embarrassing. Far as we know at the moment, there are no storylines of man-boy rape, tattoo parlors or orgies on boats that will attend this game, although Ducks players are always a threat to drive 118 mph in a 20 mph zone.
The only original content for this game is another bizarre exit for soon-to-be ex-UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel. Seattle sports fans know well that little drama. Nothing to see here, folks, so let’s move along,
Neuheisel was a casualty on Black Monday, the traditional career-bloodletting in the industry that is at least as much a part of the holiday season as pepper spray and store tramplings.
Another chap with Seattle connections was also lost. Arizona State fired Dennis Erickson, Everett native and former Seahawks coach — hell, former everyone’s coach. Erickson probably has called Penn State because he heard the Nittany Lions were looking to fill a football vacancy with someone far different than the former occupant.
Meanwhile, in Montlake, all is quiet — except, of course, for the hundreds of dump trucks taking away Husky Stadium. If you haven’t seen it, go to the University Hospital quiet zone, cross the street to the light-rail station big dig (estimated completion: 2016) and take a left. Keep your head on a swivel.
But as far as the Huskies football program goes, it is quiet. Which is another modest triumph. They finished 7-5, a game better than a year ago, beat the rival and are going to go to an as-yet-unidentified bowl game or the second year in a row. They are not part of any known salaciousness — Venoy Overton played basketball, remember? — the players are resting and the coaches are recruiting.
For a school that not long ago nearly had to open a FEMA trailer town to house all the NCAA investigators, the stillness is good. Nor is there coaching tumult, as there is in the Palouse, where Paul Wulff’s Cougar career-death watch passed Day 2 Monday.
When he was hired, Steve Sarkisian was the fifth coach in 11 years at Washington, the turnover being the single biggest reason for the program’s decay that still haunts today. But as long as Sarkisian makes progress, UW can trade on his stability — unless, of course, a bigger predator with a coaching vacancy wants to strike.
Barring that, all Washington needs to do is watch college football’s circus and stay out of the elephant poop — while preening for the Alamo Bowl selectors.
The Dec, 29 game in San Antonio is where the Huskies want to be, and not because of the potential opponent or the chance to fall drunkenly into the River Walk. They want to be at the game for all the reasons important to college football — money.
The Alamo’s per-team payout is $2,225,000, sixth-best among the non-BCS bowls, or better than any other bowl affiliated with the Pac-12, and way better than the minimum paydays of $750,000 for many minor bowls. At $750K these days, participating teams almost always go in the red for the trip, unless the schools confine the band to one piccolo player and the athletic staff to one freshman ankle-taper.
While the conference has a bowl-revenue-sharing program, the participating schools are allowed to spend all of their bowl’s payout. That means a bigger traveling party — a full complement of players, coaches, staff and wives/children, as well as expenses for university administrators and, even more important for Washington, some of the fat cats who have donated to the stadium renovation.
The bowl/party around the holidays is the primary, but least-talked-about, reason that the industry’s powers that be will fight to the death to preserve the system. It’s a reward unrivaled in any college and pro sport for many employees, fans and donors, especially these days when everyone is being asked to give more and get less.
Unless and until the advocates of a college-football playoff system can come up with a formula that spreads around the debauchery, it will be easier to overthrow the government of China than to upend the bowl system.
Last year the Huskies took a big delegation to San Diego with the Holiday Bowl’s $2.2 million payout, and a good time was said to be had by all. This time, the Alamo gets first choice among the Pac-12’s three 7-5 teams — Washington, Utah and California — to play the Big 12’s No. 3 team. Since Washington beat the other two and has a track record of filling up empty hotel rooms in the host city, the Huskies would seem to be a favorite, especially since the Holiday would like to avoid a repeat customer.
If college football’s current state seems altogether squirrelly, feel free to add to the confusion by looking at the BCS standings. You will find no teams from the state of Florida or Arizona, and one (Stanford) from California. No Notre Dame. No Ohio State.
Among the four teams from Texas, the three highest ranked are former ne’er-do-wells Houston, Baylor, and TCU, followed at No. 22 by Texas.
If you say you understand college football, you lie. Best anyone can do is try to reform it, but the likeliest outcome anyone can muster is to forgive it.