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Jacob Thorpe: Injustice on display, WSU-OSU pits two of college football’s top-ranked programs Saturday

By Jacob Thorpe For The Spokesman-Review

Just call it the Injustice Bowl.

In case the symbolism was too subtle when 14th-ranked Oregon State visits No. 21 Washington State this weekend, the universities hosted a pregame news conference with the school presidents and athletic directors to preview the game. They even created a special background for the virtual news conference comprised of both school logos.

This is the Pac-2 championship game, after all.

By hook and by crook, the schools are joined together for the foreseeable future and the school officials made that clear during the news conference. With the rest of the Pac-12 member schools abandoning OSU and WSU, the Beavers and Cougars have dedicated this season to exposing just how ridiculous the whole thing is. And what better way to showcase that college football’s realignment fever is not based on merit than by having both teams ranked when they meet in one of the season’s top matchups?

“These are two of the best college football programs in the country going head-to-head in a sold-out stadium,” WSU President Kirk Schulz declared.

The school administrators took great pains to hammer this point in the news conference: We are worthy. Schulz pointed out that this is one of only three schools ranked in the Top 25 in football, volleyball and women’s soccer.

Sure, it is an odd assortment of sports to pick, but it makes the point. WSU’s athletic department stands tall. The presidents talked about the importance of their institutions to their respective states and how if the television networks demanding realignment’s selection were natural, they would not leave out schools that win games, have loyal fanbases and draw eyes to TV sets.

These two agriculturally focused, land-grant universities have always had a sort of kinship amongst the fanbases. There is a rivalry there, but, respectful-like. Now that friendly rivalry and the bond shared between the two schools is formalized unlike any other I can recall in college sports.

“I was in Eastern Washington last week and, my gosh, every town there was a huge outpouring of support,” OSU President Jayathi Murthy said. “You’re talking about people worried about their identity and in a strange way this has actually knit our identity together and brought us so much closer to each other.”

OSU’s success is WSU’s success, and vice versa. The better these two programs do apart, the more power they have to secure a good future together.

Whichever team wins Saturday will be the standard bearer for this season-long effort to embarrass the major conferences for not including the Pac-2 schools in their long-term planning. That school will be 4-0 with at least one win over a Top 25 team.

I would say they will certainly be ranked in the top 15 nationally, but I learned long ago not to trust the voters. Regardless of ranking, the victor will be well-positioned to compete in a Pac-12 that is proving to be the nation’s toughest, most interesting conference in its final season.

Shame it was not worth keeping around. This conference with eight teams ranked in the Top 25, disproving resoundingly the notion that West Coast schools could not be competitive in today’s college football game.

Shame that this conference with Neon Deion Sanders and Colorado was not worth a peer-level TV deal. Ignore the fact that the Buffaloes’ late-night matchup against Colorado State last weekend was the fifth-highest average viewership for a regular-season game on ESPN.

The most-viewed Pac-12 team last weekend? Oregon State. Shame the TV networks can’t sell ads during Beavers games, apparently.

I get the sense that the typical respect felt between these two fanbases is blossoming into something else due their shared situation. The contest Saturday will be fought fiercely, no doubt, but then it is back to the bunker for the Beavers and Cougars.

The schools have shown that they will not be going down without a court battle, and their athletic programs are proving that they can compete with the richest schools just as long as they have the courage to play them.

It is time for a motto change in Pullman: “Cougs and Beavs vs. Everybody.”