Call it a return to normalcy.
Washington State’s radio broadcast team of Matt Chazanow, Alex Brink, Jessamyn McIntyre and Derek Deis set up shop in the Bob Robertson Broadcast Suite of Martin Stadium on Saturday afternoon, then spent the next few hours analyzing the state of the Cougars’ football program.
So, in some ways, not too much different from what the quartet would’ve been doing had the Cougars hosted Utah in a season opener that was supposed to take place the same day, according to the revised Pac-12 schedule released in August.
But there was no game Saturday, just the promise of one – still plenty good enough, considering the circumstances of the past seven months.
Saturday’s broadcast, which lasted almost two hours, may have lacked the live action WSU fans have been craving since the Cougars lost to Air Force in the 2019 Cheez-It Bowl, but it contained plenty of important conversations with key figures around the program, including WSU Athletic Director Pat Chun, first-year defensive coordinator Jake Dickert, fifth-year senior offensive lineman Liam Ryan and former Cougars wide receiver Michael Bumpus.
Pertaining to the resumption of the Pac-12 football season in early November, Ryan told the radio crew, “It’s exciting. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a year without football, or any sporting stuff.”
As the Cougars enter the next phase of their preseason ramp-up, resuming the 20-hour-per-week access period on Monday, they’ll also unwrap Quidel’s COVID-19 testing machines, which were delivered to Pac-12 campuses earlier in the week. The Pac-12’s partnership with Quidel Corporation, and the availability of machines that offer rapid, 15-minute tests, were at the heart of the conference’s decision to restart the season after initially postponing until Jan. 1, 2021.
“We’ll get moving with it next week,” Chun said. “… The machines are here and the training already happened. The league moved fast, we have the certifications we need, so we’re going to start operating them really on Monday.”
Chun anticipates that will be “somewhat of a learning curve” for WSU’s athletic training staff, but noted, “We found out there’s some people with a little bit of expertise in the Palouse region that we’ve asked to come help us a little bit.” Of the conference’s 12 schools, Oregon State and Arizona are the only ones “up and running” with the machines.
The conference’s official announcement came Thursday, albeit without a new schedule. Commissioner Larry Scott indicated teams would have those next week.
Chun provided more context Saturday, saying the conference already has a scheduling model mapped out but won’t release it until it’s reviewed by the various television networks that will be airing Pac-12 games.
“TV needs to scrub it to see what their choices are, what their picks are,” Chun said. “Then my assumption is we’ll see a version of it Monday or Tuesday next week. That’s my guess.”
Some reports have indicated the Pac-12 may consider unusual time slots, including a potential 9 a.m. kickoff, in order to gain more national exposure for the conference while not overlapping too much with games in the SEC, ACC, Big-12 and Big Ten.
“I know this, it will not be a 9 a.m. kick, I will promise you that,” Chun said. “That does not change with the change in our coaching staff.”
WSU hasn’t released information on when it would begin preseason camp, but Dickert hinted at an Oct. 9 start date. The Cougars and their Pac-12 peers will be permitted 25 practices during a four-week period leading up to the season opener, as is the case most years.
Chun also spoke about the importance of creating a home-field advantage at Martin Stadium, even with no fan attendance. No different than its peers throughout the conference, WSU will pump in artificial crowd noise, but Chun also suggested the Cougars will rely on many of their other game-day rituals, such as raising the Ol’ Crimson flag before kickoff and playing Andy Grammar’s “Back Home” song between the first and second quarters.
“If we’ve got three or four home games here, depending on what happens with that seventh game, we have to give our team the best chance to win,” Chun said. “It’s got to feel like a home game without the fans and our coaching staff has no idea what that feels like.”
With the 20-hour access period, WSU players can spend eight additional hours per week with coaches. Pads and helmets won’t come on until Oct. 9, but coaches can still conduct on-field walkthroughs and review film with players.
It wasn’t too long ago Ryan and his teammates were not only cut off from those things, but also the team weight room, which forced them to get creative to stay in shape. The left tackle said he hasn’t been home to Southern California since spring break and spent much of his offseason training with fellow offensive line starters Abe Lucas and Josh Watson.
“I kind of just stayed here with Abe and Josh, the other two veterans, and kind of just got work with them as much as we could,” Ryan said. “Whether it was field work, trying to find weights, the coaches dropped off bands to us. Just trying to find weird ways to work out and stay in shape.”
For the first time in a long time, there’s structure to everything the Cougars are doing now.
And maybe even a little normalcy.