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Washington State announces deal with HBO to bring ‘Hard Knocks’-type show to campus

Washington State Cougars head coach Mike Leach dons a Gardner Minshew mustache following WSU's defeat of Colorado during the second half of a college football game on Saturday, November 10, 2018, at Folsom Field in Boulder Colo. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

It’s official: Washington State’s football program will be spotlighted in an HBO program this fall modeled after the network’s “Hard Knocks” documentary series.

Saturday morning, the school teased HBO’s arrival – and recognized rumors that started floating four days ago for the first time – with a Tweet from the Washington State Football account.

A graphic shows Cougars cornerback Marcus Strong placing a helmet over his head, with a text overlay reading “Coming Soon: The Cougs on HBO.” The post’s caption read “This should be fun. #GoCougs #JoinTheHunt”

No other details have been released yet, like if the program will adopt the same “Hard Knocks” name the network’s NFL reality show uses, or when the show will actually visit WSU’s campus. HBO representatives visited Pullman Thursday and sent a camera crew to Friday’s late afternoon practice at Martin Stadium.

It’s expected that the show will return to the Palouse for one week during the regular season, presumably coinciding with a WSU home game. The Cougars host four Pac-12 games in 2019: UCLA (Sept. 21), Colorado (Oct. 19), Stanford (Nov. 16) and Oregon State (Nov. 23)

A report from earlier in the week indicated HBO was planning to focus on four schools: WSU, Arizona State, Penn State and Alabama. The series will apparently film an Oct. 12 game between the Cougars and Sun Devils in Tempe.

Eighth-year WSU coach Mike Leach figures to be a major focal point in the show’s coverage of the Cougars. Cameras and boom microphones were at Leach’s hip the majority of Friday’s practice, but also picked up sound and footage from various drills, dropping a mic and camera into the popular “bull in the ring” drill the Cougars open every practice with.

Leach didn’t formally brief players about the show’s arrival, but once he noticed HBO cameras around the perimeter of the field, he told the Cougars in their pre-practice huddle “just to ignore them.”

“It’s all right,” Leach said. “Just ignore them. Practice ignoring the cameras, because they want a genuine look and we’re not going to get our work done unless we effectively ignore one another.”

The “Hard Knocks” NFL show, currently in its 14th season, offers unmatched glimpses into the professional and personal lives of players, filming in their locker rooms, meeting rooms and occasionally following athletes into their homes.

It’s unclear how the show’s access would change at the college level, or if the privacy of the student-athletes would be protected in any instances by FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) laws.

“I don’t care, it’s just cameras,” WSU right tackle Abe Lucas said. “It doesn’t matter to me. Half the time there’s so many cameras out here and I don’t know what they’re for, so I don’t care.”

Added Lucas: “I don’t watch TV too much as it is, so I don’t know a lot about HBO. And I don’t really have an opinion on it, I haven’t really thought about it.”

Inside linebackers coach Roc Bellantoni said the show would bring good exposure to the school that would help on the recruiting trail – and didn’t think the cameras were too much of a distraction on day one.

“They get to see us in a different light,” he said.