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Blanchette: Holiday Bowl is on, 100 percent

Washington State coach Mike Leach, left, calls a play from the sidelines of the Apple Cup Friday, Nov. 25, 2016 at Martin Stadium in Pullman. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Washington State coach Mike Leach, left, calls a play from the sidelines of the Apple Cup Friday, Nov. 25, 2016 at Martin Stadium in Pullman. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

When Mike Leach is right, he’s … half right.

Washington State’s football coach had it pegged all along –in the end, there wasn’t going to be any boycott of the Holiday Bowl by the Minnesota players his Cougars will meet on Dec. 27 in San Diego. Or at least there was no point in working up a sweat over it.

“I ignore 100 percent of that,” he scoffed a few days ago. “There’s always drama this time of year. Historically, your best bet is to assume everybody is playing.”

You know, like those years when Notre Dame turned down invitations, or Texas taking itself out of consideration of even a back-door bid this season. Or all those players who get sent home for breaking curfew. That historically.

Also, if you’ve truly been ignoring something “100 percent” and somebody brings up the subject of a boycott, wouldn’t the response be, “What the hell are you talking about?”

Sorry. Still stuck in pre-Trump literalism.

Anyway, the Holiday Bowl is back on, not that it was ever officially off. Northern Illinois, the purported Plan B opponent, can stand down.

The drama, as Leach called it, is indeed over and now begins the dismissal of the Holiday as even a worthy watch.

The Gophers, underdogs already, will arrive distracted, downbeat and disinvested, to say nothing of short-handed. Ten players have been suspended – sanctions from the school’s office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action regarding their roles in an incident that won’t be prosecuted as multiple acts of sexual assault but must be regarded as such by the decent and reasonable. Among those ousted players are most of the Gophers’ secondary regulars, so it will be left to the JVs to check Gabe Marks and Tavares Martin Jr.

Oh, well. Jousting in the lines at Sea World is available if the Cougs and their entourage still crave competition.

Meanwhile, we are left to mourn missing out on what could have been a delicious plot twist, if only in the imagining.

What if Minnesota’s administration had caved and not the players? How admirable might it have been if WSU’s football family had then stood together and declared, “Well, then, we’re going to boycott.”

You know, so as not even to appear to endorse something as despicable as what the Gophers’ original goal-line stand tacitly condoned.

I know –it wouldn’t have been the Cougars’ place. It’s not their business. Fans had already made travel plans. It would be taking their eye off the ball.

And, naturally, Leach wouldn’t have stood for it.

“If somebody decided to boycott here,” he growled on Friday, “I’d cut him.”

Sigh. Of course he would.

Quite the opposite occurred in Minneapolis. Head coach Tracy Claeys took to Twitter after the players first staged their walkout with this blast: “Have never been more proud of our kids. I respect their rights & support their effort to make a better world!”

A better world where sexual predation is shrugged off simply because the prosecutor doesn’t think he can make a case? That kind of better world?

Claeys may have kept his locker room, but his sentiment was as tone deaf as the players’ initial outrage, which trumpeted the lofty ideals of brotherhood without so much as acknowledging the living hell visited upon the female student and the larger social contract. In fact, the players rallied to “take back our program,” implying it should operate independent of any campus intrusion or oversight.

This got walked back on Saturday when the Gophers put down their picket signs –without anyone threatening to yank their scholarships. Someone – a lawyer, a publicist, maybe even president Eric Kaler – helped the players craft a statement which in the very first paragraph emphasized, “We recognize that there is a legal threshold and there is a moral threshold and a standard of values set forth by this university. There is only one acceptable way to treat all women and all men, and that is with the utmost of respect at all times.”

The archtypical teachable moment, then, and a win.

And one that Leach’s scorched-earth, I’d-cut-’em approach would have vaporized.

The Cougars, as we know, have had their own issues with campus-imposed sanctions – for acts far less horrific than those described in the Minnesota EOAA report. In the showdown case of Robert Barber, relief was sought – and received – from a judge, who didn’t weigh in on whether the school has a right to mete out its own noogies, but cocked an eyebrow at its dubious application of due process. A review of the system is under way.

But the most strident voices of protest then railed that WSU shouldn’t even be in the discipline business – and certainly not when it involves football players, who we were informed had become society’s victims while we weren’t looking. As with the Minnesota players, the suggestion was that absent a criminal conviction –or charge – what’s the big deal?

At least one school figured it out.

And this time, anyway, the best bet wasn’t to assume everybody is playing.

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