LAS VEGAS – Washington is ditching the Pac-12 for the Big Ten next year, but Washington State men’s basketball coach Kyle Smith wants to continue the 113-year rivalry with the Huskies.
“We’ve reached out to them,” Smith said Wednesday at Pac-12 men’s basketball media day. “I think that would be great for both fan bases even if it’s just once-a-year (format) like an Apple Cup. It will be up to them if we don’t play. It will be their call, but I’d love to play it.”
UW coach Mike Hopkins isn’t nearly as enthusiastic as Smith at preserving the cross-state series that began in 1910.
“It’s a great rivalry and it’s great for the state,” Hopkins said. “Right now, we’re playing Seattle U and we play the Zags. I just think it comes back to scheduling and can you make it happen. … There’s a lot of different variables. There’s a lot of factors.
“But in a perfect world, you want to play them because they’ve got great coaching and they’re a great program with great history. It would be great for the state.”
Still, Hopkins is unsure about UW’s future nonconference scheduling obligations with the Big Ten and the possibility the Big Ten will adopt a new 21-game conference schedule.
“My best answer right now is I don’t know,” Hopkins said. “Ultimately, it’s talking to Kyle and trying to figure out something that works. Look, bottom line is we play these games for our student-athletes and we play them for the fans. Not for us.
“But there’s just so much unknown right now and to make any guarantee isn’t appropriate.”
As the Pac-12 falls apart, Smith is sure about one thing: “We have to keep this thing going.”
That’s the mantra he shares with Oregon State men’s basketball coach Wayne Tinkle during their daily conversations as they plot a path forward.
“It’s an easy meeting,” Smith said. “I pick up the phone and call Wayne. We talk about a lot of things. We’re kind of waiting to see. I think by Nov. 14 we’re hoping we’ll know whatever happens with the (lawsuit). Hopefully, we’ll have more resolution. That’s when I think the dust will clear on that thing. At some point, we’ll have to have some direction. It’s a test to staying present.”
Smith alluded to a joint lawsuit filed by WSU and OSU against the Pac-12 and commissioner George Kliavkoff, which seeks to prevent the 10 departing schools from having a controlling say in conference decisions.
“We want to make sure that we keep this (Pac-12) brand going … and it’s not just for the financial,” Tinkle said. “It’s for the AQ (automatic qualifier for the men’s and women’s NCAA basketball tournament). It’s for the football playoffs and quite frankly we’re fighting for the Pac-12. We’re (mad) frankly that this thing has dissolved.
“We’ve got to work to find solutions. If we handle things the right way in the next couple of years, things are going to settle back to a little bit closer to the normalcy that we’re used to.”
Smith and Tinkle want to preserve the Pac-12 in hopes the teams that are leaving for the Big Ten (Washington, Oregon, USC and UCLA), the Big 12 (Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah) and ACC (California and Stanford) will return – presumably without the football component.
“I’d love to save the league, build and be a home for when they come back because I think it’s the most absurd thing I’ve ever seen, those guys playing basketball across the country,” Smith said. “And we haven’t talked about how dumb the Stanford/Cal thing is.
“It’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard for basketball. When that settles and football goes on their own, hopefully, we still have a Pac-12 or whatever name and I’m not going to be mad when they want to come back and embrace them.”
Smith and Tinkle believe the premier college football teams will form a super conference that’ll allow schools to regionally realign.
UCLA coach Mick Cronin also expressed displeasure with the direction of college sports.
“The big key for college basketball is that we can continue to focus on what’s best for college basketball,” he said. “(That’s) been obviously very hard to do with football and football television money deciding our fate.”
Cronin plans to continue UCLA’s rivalry with Arizona. Wildcats coach Tommy Lloyd said: “I’m confident it will happen.”
Oregon coach Dana Altman, who enters his 14th season and is the conference’s longest-tenured coach, has also committed to preserving the in-state series with Oregon State.
“I’d love to play some (Pac-12) schools,” Altman said. “I hope some schools want to play us. I’ve talked to Wayne, and we’re going to play Oregon State once a year and keep that going. It’s good for basketball in the state. It’s good for our fans. Wayne and I have discussed it, and we want to play. So, unless the higher-ups tell us we’re not, we’re going to play.”
Several coaches expressed interest in participating in an annual nonconference tournament featuring former Pac-12 teams at a neutral setting like Las Vegas.
“We have to keep some of these Pac-12 rivalries alive,” said first-year California coach Mark Madsen, who starred at Stanford. “It’s going to be a travesty if none of the former Pac-12 teams play against each other.”