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Sports >  WSU football

John Blanchette: Washington State-Cal cancellation should be final act of Pac-12 season

UPDATED: Sat., Dec. 12, 2020

By John Blanchette For The Spokesman-Review

And that’s the ballgame.

At least, it should be.

What remains of Pac-12 football in 2020 will have no more relevance than amicus briefs supporting seditious crackpots and their evidence-barren lawsuits. Not that any football in Pandemia has been weighty with meaning.

Well, maybe at Arizona.

The Wildcats will at least get a new coach for their many troubles, though it took a 0-5 record and a tanking of unprecedented proportion against their rival on Friday to force the issue on Kevin Sumlin’s reign of error.

No such embarrassments befell Washington State this weekend. Only the frustration of Lucy whisking away another kickoff from Charlie Brown.

And that’s … something.

After having two earlier games wiped out by their own low player count after COVID-19 testing and then enduring a first-half stomping from USC upon their return, the Cougars didn’t mail in the battle. They dug in with some siccum against the Trojans the rest of the way, and by coach Nick Rolovich’s account were “mentally prepared better” for Saturday’s encounter with Cal than at any time this season.

Attaboys for what should be the standard, yes. But nuanced victories are pretty much the only kind left.

Because 90 minutes before kickoff Saturday, the Bears and Cougs called off their game in Pullman – a single positive test among Cal players having kick-started contact tracing procedures, and dropped the visitors below the 53-scholarship-player standard. One report said Cal would have had just two defensive linemen available, a position group that was hit hard in two previous cancellations for the Bears.

For you accountants, that’s 11 of the 36 games the Pac-12 arranged for its six-week “championship” season that went unplayed, not counting the two shotgun marriages for the orphans of Weeks 2 and 4. The national count is up to 125.

Emphasizing the canceled games over those that actually came off invites a charge of humbuggery, never mind how many of those played were compromised by significant sit-outs, risky depth, dubious preparation, the odd false positive and – this would be you, Arizona – suspect motivation.

Score was kept, but this was practice. Exercise. Putting a few plays on videotape for pro scouts.

And fulfilling TV contracts. The true reason for the season.

Which more or less brings us to the Pac-12’s Week 7, a game show known as “Why Bother?”

On Friday, the conference will – COVID willing – stage its championship game, pitting South Division champ USC against North Division champ TBD.

Technically, TBD is UW – the Pac-12 announcing Washington as the North champs via tweet on Saturday night. But consider that written in sand. Five days from kickoff, and there’s no concrete determination as to who will be playing.

It could have been worse, but Colorado picked Saturday to tumble from its unbeaten perch and muffle calls that the Buffs-Trojans game that was canceled two weeks ago be recast as the title game and to hell with the North.

The momentum for that bit of Machiavellianism began with the ACC and Big Ten rewriting their rules and schedules to protect Notre Dame, Clemson and Ohio State in the playoff picture – characterized by many as those conferences “putting their best foot forward” and being agile and not, you know, as the cynical opportunism it is.

And speaking of cynical …

The cancellation of the Oregon-Washington game this weekend due to the Huskies’ virus issues has essentially made them North champs by virtue of percentage, not head-to-head achievement. But there’s also serious doubt whether UW can pull enough bodies together to play next weekend – and even if the Huskies do, of course, what a bad look that side-door entry would be without the reckoning with Oregon.

The backup option? The Ducks, who have lost their past two games.

So, hey, quite a showcase – right, Larry Scott?

But beyond the title game, all the other Pac-12 teams are supposed to be matched Saturday, the equivalent of opening regifted socks and neckties the day after Christmas – a well-intentioned plan that always smelled of exhibition games.

Fellas, face it. The season is over.

The Pac-12 champ won’t get within a wave of the playoff parade. The other games are hollow and pointless consolations. Already, there are bowl-eligible teams elsewhere like Pitt and Boston College bowing out of consideration from fatigue and disinterest. Half the Pac-12’s affiliate bowls pulled the plug.

The defining image of Pac-12 football in 2020 will remain Stanford practicing in a park in Bellevue in preparation for the Huskies – the Cardinal in self-exile from their home because local COVID restrictions wouldn’t have allowed them to finish the season, their extended road trip happily endorsed by campus educrats.

It’s been a hit to the Pac-12 ego, for sure – and then along came TV talking head Kirk Herbstreit on Saturday to declare that as a conference, the Pac has become “less respected than the American.” Which might be true, if respect isn’t contingent upon anyone actually being able to name a team in the American.

The whole rallying cry for carrying on football in the Year of COVID has been to be nimble in the face of abrupt change. Here’s one more chance for the Pac-12.

Call it a day. Call it a season.

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