COUGARS • UPDATED 9:30 A.M.
It could be D-Day for USC today. Or Pearl Harbor, if that's your leaning. Whatever, it looks like the Trojans are in trouble. It also seems we're getting closer to some sort of landslide toward expansion and realignment of the conferences. Those items are discussed on the link. Read on.
• UPDATE: The expansion train is rolling. Colorado accepted an invitation to join the Pac-10. See post above.
• What should we examine first? According to the Los Angeles Times, the Trojans have been hit with a two-year bowl ban and a loss of more than 20 scholarships, among other penalties. If that's the case, and ESPN says it is, that's a huge hit for USC and the Pac-10 just when the conference is looking to make a sea change. A weakened USC, even for only a while, hurts the conference's reputation nationally – yes, I know it's not fair, but most fans outside the West Coast see Pac-10 football through a USC prism; if the Trojans are good, the conference is, it they aren't, the conference isn't. But, in a weird way, it might help the expansion effort, as the Big 12 schools be courted might see an opportunity to establish roots while USC is struggling. We'll know by noon. Personally, unless something else shows up in the report, I don't understand the severity of the sanctions. I've read a ton of stuff relating to Reggie Bush and his transgressions, and I don't understand how schools are supposed to police this stuff. Put WSU in USC's shoes for a minute. Say the Cougars were to recruit a running back from Boise. This player blossoms in Pullman. He's projected as a No. 1 draft pick. Should WSU then station someone in Boise to make sure the player's parents aren't getting money from would-be agents? If the school doesn't, and the parents do, should the school be punished? If that's the case, doesn't each NCAA school need to hire a couple people to just travel the nation, talking to every athlete's parents and inspecting their bank accounts or belongings to make sure they aren't getting money or gifts? Where does it end? Now if the NCAA can prove that a school (in this case USC) knew and winked at it, then throw the book at it. That might be the case here. But what lengths are schools supposed to go to police their athletes and, more importantly, the athletes' parents? Don't the people who are accepting the largesse have most of the responsibility? I find this a conundrum that I can't solve.
• Now on to expansion. By now I'm sure you've heard the news. It looks like Nebraska is set to jump the Big 12 ship and join the Big Ten. With that domino falling, the others, teetering earlier in the week, seem set to crash as well. The landing spot for half of the Big 12 – Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Colorado – is going to be the Pac-10 (or whatever they call it). So how will this conference expansion affect the current members of the conference, most notably Washington State? Let's look at a few things.
• Money: That's what this all about, right? Football money, mostly. The idea is, with a 16-team conference that stretches from Texas to Colorado to Washington to California, seven of the top 16 TV markets in the nation (and six of the top 13) would be covered by the conference. That means more money from television, somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 million per school if things break right. That's an increase of anywhere from $12 to $10 million per school for each of the current Pac-10 members. Taken as a percentage of the school's current budget, that money would mean a lot more in Pullman than it would in Westwood or Seattle, that's for sure. For a school like WSU, that's learned how to compete despite the overwhelming financial resources of its opponents, a few extra million would help a lot – if it's spent more efficiently than most of its conference brethren.
• Football: It's already tough enough to win a Pac-10 title for a school like Washington State. That's obvious. A 60-plus year Rose Bowl drought is sufficient evidence. Adding schools like Texas and Oklahoma will make it even tougher. Heck, depending on how the schedule is configured, winning the requisite six games to get to a bowl might even be tougher. If the divisional landscape is configured as reported – with WSU in an old Pac-8 setup with UW, Oregon, OSU, Cal, Stanford, UCLA and USC – and the nine game conference schedule is kept – with WSU playing one home and one road game against the other division of ASU, UA, Texas, Tech, A&M, Oklahoma, OSU and Colorado – then the vagaries of the schedule might just determine the school's bowl chances. For example (and using the last few years as a base), if WSU – even a much-improved WSU – had Texas at home and Arizona on the road, that would be a lot tougher than Colorado at home and ASU in Tempe. The luck of the draw could be crucial. But there would be a lot more money coming in, so there's that. With less financial pressure, maybe the three non-conference opponents could be three really crappy teams.
• Basketball: This all comes down to how many conference games there will be. If the Pac-16 keeps 18, and WSU plays everyone once, there will be three schools each year the Cougars would play in a home-and-home. Say they always play Washington twice, which makes sense. Then WSU would probably have two-game sets with two teams in its division, if only to save on travel. If those two schools are (and, again, using the last few years as a base) Oregon State and Stanford, that's a lot better than UCLA and Arizona State. The vagaries of the schedule will become a big deal as well here. What's funny here is the Pac-10 and the Big 12 have been playing their challenge for three years now, which kind of mirrors the change. WSU, however, hasn't played any of the reported incoming schools, having split with Baylor and losing last year at Kansas State. Trading a game against UCLA in Los Angeles for a game in Lubbock against Texas Tech – and a one-game trip at that – would seem to be net loss for a school like WSU, however, in exposure and travel time. For more discussion on this, you can read Jake Curtis' thoughts and those of the Times' Percy Allen.
• Other sports: Wow, what a baseball conference this would be. There would be no debate about which is the best in the country, that's for sure. Think about this. Of the 16 schools, 11 of them made this year's NCAA tournament – and that's with Tech going through a down year. Just winning the Pacific Division will be an accomplishment. But the other side, with Texas, ASU, Oklahoma, Texas A&M? This year, that would have been a grind. Women's basketball would also be huge, adding perennial powers Oklahoma and Texas to Stanford, though the proposed alignment really hurts Baylor. And, of course, just about every other sport will feel the impact of the Texas athletic juggernaut as well. No wonder the folks in Tucson see this as horrible development.
• Well, you have some of my thoughts. I'm sure you have yours. Share them if you will. I know I just scratched the surface here, not even coming close to examining all the ramifications. That would take a Stephen King-length novel. But I'd like to gauge your feelings about this, especially as it relates to WSU. So type.
• That's all for now, except for one note. There is another walk-on for the basketball team, with Union High's Chris Morgan headed to Pullman. You can read more about this guard here. ... We'll be back as events warrant. Until then ...