A GRIP ON SPORTS
It was only this past December when Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott and his Big Ten counterpart Jim Delany stepped to a podium and made an announcement that rippled through college athletics. Read on.
• Small ripples, maybe, but ripples nonetheless. The two conference commissioners announced a scheduling alliance between their charges, one that would include football but also mean the other sports would be intertwined between the two long-time powerhouses. The announcement, which meant Pac-12 and Big Ten football teams would play home-and-home series, was considered a godsend for schools like Washington State, which always struggles to get traditional powers to come to Pullman. The Cougars were looking at playing Michigan, Nebraska and Penn State in the first six years of the agreement, which was to begin in 2017, a significant upgrade of the nonconference opponents set to come to the Palouse. But that agreement is dead years before it was to begin. A few Pac-12 schools – no one is saying right now who they were, but I'm sure their identity will leak out sooner or later – didn't want to overload their three-game non-conference schedule. USC, who may or may not have been part of the anti-alliance group, already has Texas and Notre Dame on the 2017 schedule. So playing a third tough non-conference opponent doesn't make sense. But who says the Trojans would have had to? If they were matched up with Indiana or Illinois or Minnesota early on, that doesn't seem too tough, does it? Playing Purdue may not be any tougher than facing Colorado State or Fresno State or San Diego State – and would have helped out some of the Trojans conference brethren who could use the scheduling boost.
• But there is one other problem the Pac-12 just can't get over. The conference plays nine league games. The Big Ten (and the SEC) play eight, leaving one more non-conference game to schedule a win. The Pac-12 insistence on nine conference games is an antiquated notion that should have died when the league went from 10 to 12 teams. I got the idea of playing nine conference games when it determined a true conference champion. The title was decided on the field. But now, with 12 teams, two divisions and a championship game, eight seems to be a better number, especially considered the disadvantage inherent in adding another conference loss, which always seems to hurt more than wins help. Switching to an eight-game conference schedule, adding an alliance with the Big Ten, evening the playing field, all seem to be ideas a progressive conference – and conference administration – would seem to want to embrace.
• Yesterday's announcement was covered in greater depth by the Times' Bud Withers, Ted Miller of ESPN.com and Ryan Finley of the Arizona Daily Star. After reading Withers' piece, I'm pretty sure Washington was one of the schools that torpedoed the project.
• Washington State: One aspect of the breakdown Withers covered was WSU's desire to make the alliance work, with supportive quotes included from Bill Moos. After hearing Moos speak a couple of times about the possibilities for the Cougars inherent in the alliance, I can assure you WSU was all for it. … Miller looks at the conference's linebacking corps, with the Cougars in the “we'll see” category. … Though the San Jose Mercury News was more interested in Harrison Barnes' debut, Klay Thompson (above), with 24 points, was the key force in the Warriors' summer team shooting down the Lakers' group. … Despite being a first-round draft pick, Stanford pitcher Mark Appel will not sign with Pittsburgh and will return to college. … ASU coach Todd Graham has tweaked his defensive staff, though former WSU assistant Chris Ball's job hasn't changed. … Though the headline is inaccurate, this overview of Utah's commits is.
• Eastern Washington: Playing tough non-conference opponents is nothing new for the Eagles, but the 2015 might be their toughest test. The school announced it will play at Oregon that season. … Weber State has added another assistant coach with Washington State ties.
• Shock: There will be no playoffs for the Shock, but they would like to finish with at least a .500 record. That can be assured with a win at Kansas City tonight. Jim Meehan has an advance of the game. … The rest of the Shock's division is in the playoffs, though Arizona lost at San Antonio last night. The loss allowed Utah, which won, to take over first in the division with one game left in the regular season. San Jose hosts Iowa tonight.
• Mariners: No changes in the roster (Geoff Baker has some thoughts on this), no changes in the outcome (Eric Wedge has some thoughts on this). Despite a ninth-inning rally (short-circuited once more by a bad Jeff Datz decision in the third-base coaching box), the M's fell to the Rangers 3-2. Once again the Mariners offense was non-existent, this time against starter Derek Holland (right), whom they routed the last time they met. … Mariners first-round draft pick Mike Zunino's minor league debut was washed away by the thundershowers that rolled through the Puget Sound yesterday.
• Seahawks: Seattle dumped wide receiver Mike Williams, who had an injury-filled 2011 season.
• That's our Saturday report. We'll return Sunday with another fun-filled post. Until then …