June 16, 2010 in Sports

There’s some hard truths for Pac-10

By The Spokesman-Review
 

As Pac-10 corporate raider Larry Scott tried this week to gobble up Exxon Mobil, Chevron and ConacoPhillips only to get stuck with BP, thanks should go to Big 12-minus-2 commissioner Dan Beebe for giving the college football annexation mambo two moments of brilliant clarity.

One hilarious, the other not so much.

In his desperation to save the Dust Bowl Conference and, thus, his job, Beebe composed a memo to the league presidents, touching on the attractions of the neighborhood – though somehow skipping over the allure of the Chuck Norris Museum in Oklahoma and the World’s Largest Ball of Twine in Kansas.

The memo had zero impact, of course. Texas stayed because the to-be-orphaned members said, “Here, take as much of our money as you want and start your own TV channel, too.” Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State stayed because, well, their pimp insisted.

At one point, Beebe cautioned the five schools wooed by the Pac-10 about “having student-athletes return to campus from competitions that are two time zones away, and losing those two hours while trying to go to and keep up with class.”

The image of, say, the Sooners touching down after a road game and beating feet to the library is heart-tugging, knowing they have to prep for those merciless OU exams in Philosophy 455 taught by Professor Larry the Cable Guy.

Beebe’s other point?

“I grew up in Pac-10 territory,” he wrote, “and although there are outstanding institutions … the facilities and fair-weather fans are a disappointment.”

Ouch. And ouch.

True, Beebe is from Walla Walla and played football there at the community college before transferring to Cal Poly Pomona, presumably for the state-of-the-art facilities and the fans who supported the Broncos so rabidly that the program was shuttered in 1982.

But given his roots, there isn’t much question who he was talking about.

Is there, Cougs? Is there, Dawgs?

In the contexts of common sense, propriety and moderation, Washington State’s facilities are fine. But those qualities no longer have a place in college athletics. A Texan would look at Martin Stadium and want to know where the varsity plays.

As for attendance, it’s well understood how Wazzu’s location impacts the numbers, but averaging 22,500 in Pullman last season? Yes, the product has been pathetic – but that would be the definition of fair-weatherness, no? Or maybe not – even in the good times, the Cougars struggle to fill Martin.

Meanwhile, as soon as fortunes went south in Seattle, so did UW’s attendance – a 20 percent drop in two years. The Huskies, once too haughty to kick it off after 3:30 for TV, now solicit night games – maybe so their crumbling stadium won’t be seen in the light of day.

Really, it isn’t that much better elsewhere in the Pac-10 – even at USC, where during the Paul Hackett era just a decade ago the Coliseum was only half full.

Amid the infatuation with the money to be harvested and the comical huzzahs over shared academic high-mindedness, somehow the massive cultural collision of marrying the Texas football mentality with West Coast casual was crazily overlooked.

Just look at the in-Pac tsk-tsking over Oregon being Phil Knight’s toy when it comes to erecting athletic palaces. Why, that’s something they’d do in Texas or, horrors, the SEC.

Face it. Down there, they care more. They obsess. We multitask.

Nonetheless, Scott was applauded for his lusty swing at this uneasy union, even if it produced an infield dribbler and not a dinger. Cougs might resist joining in.

There was some brow-mopping hereabouts because it was the Pac-10 trying to cannibalize the Big 12 – some folks grasping that different events could cast the Cougs as orphans instead of Kansas State.

Well, the merry-go-round may have stopped spinning – but only for now.

About a year ago, we scolded former athletic director Jim Sterk for suggesting that WSU’s Pac-10 membership might be in peril without a surge in commitment. That was before Scott tried to take what would have been the first step in remaking college athletics into superconferences.

What Scott’s done is affirm that anything is possible in the pursuit of a buck and a brand, even shedding tradition and old compadres.

That was the real moment of clarity.


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email