Intrigue surrounds what appears to be slam dunk

How is it that, on his way out the door to San Diego, Jim Sterk didn’t bump into Bill Moos moving his carton of framed pictures and potted plants into the athletic director’s office at Washington State?

When Sterk went to back his car out of its Bohler Gym parking space, did he see Moos idling his rig in the rear-view mirror?

Instead of a search committee, has a school ever resorted to filling its A.D. job by voice vote of the fan base – before the job was even open?

Technically, the segue from Sterk to Moos – the former Coug lineman, one-time A.D. at Oregon and current Valleyford cattleman – is not a done deal, and the unprecedented public forum at which Moos will appear today on campus is not being called a press conference. At least not yet.

But it’s hard to fathom what either the candidate or the college could ask of one another at this point that they didn’t already have the answer to – aside, of course, from “What about the $1.4 million?” That’s the amount purportedly still owed Moos by Oregon should he stay out of the athletic director racket on this side of the Big Muddy until 2016 – the same sticky codicil that got in the way of him taking a job at UNLV just last month.

Has a slam dunk ever been fraught with such intrigue?

Cougs almost universally revere the dynamic Moos – his many achievements at Oregon, even aided by Phil Knight’s Nike mint, only serving to drive home what a colossal miscalculation it was when Rick Dickson was hired at WSU instead back in 1994. And Moos reveres the school – even 20 years after he last worked there, he’s still a superior raconteur of all things Coug than anyone in the department.

WSU president Elson Floyd would have to be governing the school from a blimp a hemisphere away not to pick up on this vibe, and to his credit he seems to be forgoing the search committee charade at least until something gets in the way of a marriage with Moos.

Like, you know, the money.

And here it turns into the Leverage Olympics.

As reported by The Spokesman-Review’s Vince Grippi, Floyd has told athletic staffers that reconciling the $200,000-a-year non-compete agreement is an issue for Moos and Oregon, not Wazzu. And it is – if everyone is comfortable kidding themselves.

Perhaps Moos can convince his former employer to honor some or all of that agreement, but that didn’t work when he wanted the UNLV job and it’s not likely to work if he takes a job within the same conference. Maybe there’s a lawsuit to be threatened – no matter what Oregon insists, UNLV is not a BCS school, which was the intent of the deal – and some leverage to be exerted that way. But if there is no peace to be forged with the Ducks, then someone is going to have to make it worth Moos’ while – on top of Sterk’s $300,000 wage – to forfeit all or part of $1.4 million for doing nothing.

And that means you, Cougs.

Floyd knows his athletic boosters covet Moos – just as Moos knows he’s coveted. The public wooing today appears to be one more way of Floyd saying, OK, if he’s your man, unholster those checkbooks – and not just to compensate him, but for the many other needs of WSU athletics.

It would be more the Cougar way to imagine that given his affection for the place, Moos would give his school the old hometown discount, knowing the department’s permanent position behind the resource 8-ball.

And that would be the very worst thing Moos could do for Wazzu.

It is long past time for Washington State to receive a reminder – or a slap in the face – of the membership dues for playing in its sandbox of choice. If the spiraling cost of competing at the Pac-10/BCS level is deplorable – and it is – it remains the price of doing business.

The Cougs have managed for years to muddle along on less, and occasionally do much better than muddle. Inevitably, this is never seen by the constituency as the minor miracle it is, but questioned as to why it can’t be sustained indefinitely. Those high-water marks – the Rose Bowls, the NCAA tournaments – give its fan base the excuse not to fund or support the program anywhere near the levels of its Pac-10 rivals. As much as Sterk can be faulted for not taking advantage of the “bounce” of those three 10-win football seasons, he wasn’t getting blitzed by delirious boosters ready to rebuild his stadium.

This impossible mission will now be Moos’, should he decide to accept it.

He can start by letting his many admirers know just what they’re in for.

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