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Blanchette: Cougs need no antidote against collegial fever

FRIDAY, OCT. 22, 2010

Look at it this way: If they’re happy at Washington State, it’s hard not to be happy for them.

Already the Cougars are thinking up ways to spend the extra millions apportioned them Thursday by the CEOs of the soon-to-be Pacific-12 Conference, even though their lottery ticket cannot be cashed until the expected television windfall arrives in two years. Counting all those ble$$ing$ leaves little time for nitpicking any dubious regrets.

Besides, it’s been a fitful history for the Cougars in the various incarnations of the Pac. They were run out of the league in the 1950s, essentially for not cheating enough. USC wouldn’t play them for eight years, nor come to Pullman for 28. That the Cougs will now trip to Los Angeles only every other year and entertain the Trojans just once every four doesn’t seem like such a bad trade, especially if it means not hearing the USC band bleat out “Conquest” 372 times a game.

By comparison, this feels like a seat at the adults’ table.

So now the horse trading and posturing are over. The Pac-12 will divide its TV revenues equally – at least once the haul reaches $170 million – and the Cougars will play in a North division with their Northwest rivals, California and Stanford. The championship game will be staged at the home field of a division winner. Which means that, yes, hypothetically – or hyper-hypotheti- cally, if you prefer – that could be Martin Stadium, where there hasn’t been a sellout of all 35,117 seats in four years.

Brand that, commissioner Larry Scott.

Nevertheless, there were huzzahs after the presidents and chancellors concluded their meeting in San Francisco that something historic had occurred – and not just expansion, the splitting into divisions and the sharing of wealth. Just as important, it seemed, was that it was done with unanimity and what Scott called “a level of collegiality.”

“One of the criteria we had,” WSU president Elson Floyd said, “was to make sure we were all in lockstep.”

Among his peers, he meant. The advisory meeting of the Pac-12’s athletic directors two weeks ago was something else altogether, where the division alignment reportedly squeaked by with only 7-5 approval.

“ADs are probably unanimous about nothing,” shrugged Arizona State president Michael Crow, chairman of the league’s CEO group. “They exist in sort of leadership roles about the rivalries. The chancellors and presidents exist to sort of manage the conference itself.”

Hmm. Just last week, USC athletic director Pat Haden was grumping to his boosters about being separated from the Bay Area schools. On Thursday, he was telling the Los Angeles Times, “It’s a new day, we’re happy and bring on the Pac-12.”

No wonder Crow doesn’t take the ADs all that seriously.

The CEOs’ united front was designed to send a message not just to prospective television partners, but possibly to any schools that may be players in further expansion – however far down the road.

Recall that when the Big 12 was teetering on implosion last summer, the only way for out-in-the-cold members like Kansas and Missouri to survive was supplication to Texas, where compromise is spelled “G-i-m-m-e.”

Look what happened in San Francisco. USC and UCLA surrendered their long-held advantages from the Pac-10’s appearance- weighted division of TV money. The Northwest schools gave on the recruiting asset of playing in L.A. every year to allow Cal and Stanford to preserve their relationships with their in-state mates.

“We decided that an important core value was preserving the historic rivalries in place,” Floyd said. “Once that decision was made, it became pretty easy to see that we had to look at a slightly different formula for the California schools to protect that.”

There is an irony attached: The only schools who really made no sacrifices in all this purported give and take were the two newbies, Colorado and Utah, and the Arizona schools. All the compromising came from the original Pac-8. That’s almost too collegial.

The most equitable divisional format – the “zipper” which split all the market rivals but regulated access to California – was dismissed as too cumbersome for fan and media identification, but also unnecessary.

“Once we established equal sharing,” WSU athletic director Bill Moos said, “the zipper and the whole pair of pants went out the window.”

Besides, Moos insisted what the Cougars gave up in recruiting exposure they gained in competitive edge.

“You look at what our objective is here at Washington State,” he said, “and that’s to get to the championship game to have a chance at a BCS bowl. Stanford and Cal have to play USC and UCLA every year. We have a heck of a lot better chance with the four California schools beating each other up.”

With an extra $10-15 million in TV money along with it. Can’t get much more collegial than that.

Washington St.
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