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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Sports pioneer Moos fears for future of programs: ‘It’s against everything I believe college athletics should be about’

Bill Moos, the past athletic director of Montana, Oregon, WSU and Nebraska, is now retired and spending some of his time on the Special K ranch, named for his wife, Kendra, just south of Spokane. He is writing a memoir about his travels and different jobs he’s had.  (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

For a man who will always bleed crimson, the current fate of Washington State University – and college athletics in general – causes him great distress.

Bill Moos spent 35 years helping lead athletic programs to some of their greatest heights. He led a facilities upgrade at Montana, which won a Division 1-AA national championship in football in his final year of 1995. Moos then helped guide Oregon from a Northwest also-ran into national prominence.

Moos returned to Pullman in 2010, hired the late Mike Leach as football coach and guided WSU’s largest sports facilities-building project before ending his career in 2021 after a four-year run at Nebraska.

“What a fabulous journey we were able to take in this profession. Lots of great memories,” said Moos, who is compiling a memoir he hopes to have published this year.

Now back at his small ranch in Valleyford, Moos recently watched much of what he built crumble.

The Pac -12 Conference disintegrated when Oregon and Washington bolted last August for the Big Ten Conference. Abandoned by the rest of the former schools, WSU and Oregon State were left to fend for themselves.

College players now can transfer to any school without penalty. Those same players can now sign name, image and likeness (NIL) contracts for financial gain, and the largest conferences are shepherding the vast resources to mostly benefit themselves.

“I wouldn’t have gotten into it,” Moos said, referring to his entrance to the profession at age 30 in 1982. Conference breakups, paying players and rule by television contracts are “against everything I believe college athletics should be about.”

Poster boy

Moos grew up in Edwall, Washington, before attending high school in Olympia. After graduation, he joined WSU to play football. The offensive lineman was named All-Pac-8 his senior year in 1972.

After owning and managing his own businesses for a few years, Moos returned to Pullman in 1982 to work as associate athletic director.

Moos landed his first athletic director job in Missoula. But some of his biggest moves came in Eugene after he was hired as the athletic director at Oregon in 1995.

“We were aggressive,” Moos said. “When I went there in 1995, it was a doormat. The facilities were run down. There was apathy. I spearheaded a blueprint we put together that gave us a chance.”

He convinced the school and donors to build the first indoor practice facility west of the Rocky Mountains and other facilities that attracted the athletes that won 13 Pac-10 championships across six sports.

“Why? It’s all about recruiting,” Moos said. “We are going after the same talent that USC and UCLA are telling to stay home.”

All of a sudden, schools like Michigan State and Wisconsin began agreeing to home-and-away series in Eugene.

“You can have the best coaches in the world, but if you don’t have the arms and legs to carry out the X’s and O’s, you are not going to be successful,” he said.

After a falling out with Oregon megasponsor Phil Knight, the co-founder of Nike, Moos left Oregon in 2007. He ranched in Valleyford until the late WSU President Elson S. Floyd invited him back into the Cougar fold in 2010.

“I loved Elson Floyd because he was a big thinker. If you wanted to get on his bad side, say you can’t do something,” Moos said. “He never made me feel like I worked for him.”

But Moos also told Floyd: “We have some challenges – big, costly challenges. And, you have to have my back. We have to do it now.”

By 2012, WSU moved forward on $165 million worth of upgrades to football-only facilities. More spending upgraded the baseball clubhouse, training facilities, practice facilities for men’s and women’s basketball, and a new soccer complex.

That same model, upgrading facilities to attract recruits, had worked everywhere Moos had been.

“That arms race of it, I was in the middle of it,” Moos said. “I’m probably the poster boy.”

But as a result, current WSU President Kirk Schulz now faces an uncertain revenue situation after the breakup of the Pac-12, and $100 million in debt from Moos and Floyd’s spending.

“There was debt service that I will take full responsibility there,” Moos said. “But, it was money well spent. To get our facilities up to par and to hire a coach like Mike Leach. Look what came of it.”

Aside from playing 1998 and 2003 Rose Bowls, which were both losses, WSU’s most recent pinnacle came when ESPN’s College GameDay arrived in Pullman in 2018 to watch the mustachioed Gardner Minshew and the No. 10 Cougars defeat Oregon 34-20.

“That exposure, you can’t pay for it. You have to earn it,” said Moos, who was at Nebraska at the time. “College GameDay showing up there, that was cultivated from the first day I got there.”

Roots of discord

The single-most erosive force in amateur athletics today is money, Moos said.

When he played in the early 1970s, the Cougars were lucky to have a couple of games on television. Now, nearly every Division I game is televised somewhere, which is great for fans, but he believes it also planted the seeds of the sport’s possible undoing.

As the national appetite for college football grew and television ratings generated more money, it created a new kind of arms race, Moos said.

“In 1998, there were three football coaches who were making $1 million year. They had all won national championships,” Moos said of Bobby Bowden, Steve Spurrier and Phil Fulmer.

In 1999, Washington hired Rick Neuheisel, who hadn’t won a conference championship, for the same kind of money.

“Guess who was in athletic directors’ offices the next day? Football coaches. Mine was,” Moos said. “Before you knew it, coordinators were making more than a million. Basically, there was no way to put the brakes on it.”

Soon, coaches who found success were being lured away by larger schools that could pay the best salaries, as part of the age-old problem of “haves and have-nots,” Moos said.

That was the story of WSU and OSU when Moos arrived in Pullman in 2010, he said.

At the time, WSU was averaging about $3.5 million of revenue a year from the Pac-10. Those schools with the largest TV markets – Washington, USC and UCLA – got more.

Moos said conference bylaws required eight of the 10 schools to approve revenue disbursement changes.

Finally, in 2011, the conference expanded by bringing in Utah and Colorado, which gave the smaller schools a voting bloc to change the system, Moos said.

“I’m proud of the fact that I led the charge to be able to realize equal distribution,” he said.

At the same time, the Pac-12 approved a $3 billion television rights deal. Overnight, WSU’s annual take went from about $3.5 million to $25 million. That’s what prompted Moos and Floyd to start the facilities upgrades, he said.

“Of all the things I may have done in my career, that’s one I’m most proud of,” Moos said. “Not just for my alma mater, but it benefited Stanford and Cal. They had a level playing field. But the programs that were dominating were no longer dominating to the degree they once were.”

Image is everything

As the Pac-12 finally achieved financial parity, another fight was brewing.

Ed O’Bannon, a former UCLA basketball player, in 2009 sued the NCAA over its use of players’ image and likeness for commercial purposes. In a trial in 2014, O’Bannon won.

That case led to the NCAA allowing players in 2021 to start earning money on their name, image and likeness, or NIL.

Moos is not a fan.

The days of playing for school and an education are probably gone, he said.

“They aren’t factoring in the value of that education,” Moos said.

He explained how he sat down 15 years ago with fellow athletic directors and assigned values for the benefits athletes receive. That included room and board, out-of-state scholarships, three meals a day, personal trainers and access to facilities.

“In the Pac-12 that year, it was about $200,000 a year,” Moos said. “That’s pretty good for a 19-year-old.”

But the new rules of NIL will likely erase the parity reached from the revenue-sharing he fought so hard to achieve.

“Let me put it this way, you’ve got a player who developed at Washington State. But his best NIL opportunity may be doing an advertisement for Cougar Country Drive-In,” Moos said. “Maybe he gets $10,000 to eat a hamburger on TV. But that same kid … can now go to UCLA and make $250,000 as a spokesman for Orange County Chevrolet.

“We are back to the major market having the upper hand.”

After the O’Bannon loss, the NCAA continues to face myriad anti-trust lawsuits, including one in which former players are seeking monetary damages for back pay for the time frame before the NIL rules took effect.

“I think personally, the NCAA went to sleep at the wheel and the train left the station,” Moos said. “Now they are standing there asking, ‘What happened here?’ What the NCAA looks like in the next three, five to 10 years is not what it looked like three, five and 10 years ago.”

Picking up the pieces

Moos recently watched as his friend, Pat Chun, left WSU to become athletic director at Washington. WSU men’s basketball coach Kyle Smith recently departed for Stanford.

In the meantime, Schulz, OSU and the Pac-12 are trying to figure out whether to invite other schools to join what’s left of its conference or to join another.

Moos applauded the legal efforts, which secured about $222 million for both schools over the next two years.

“They’ve done a really nice job … trying to salvage the monetary piece,” Moos said. “You’ve got to have a plan and a contingency plan. That’s 24 months.

“If that money is spent and you are looking at a potential of a Mountain West payday, you aren’t going to be able to operate the program in a manner in which it has become accustomed.”

The breakup was particularly hard on Moos, who said he spent a decade building up the rivalry between Oregon and Washington.

“What’s sad is the true college towns in the old Pac 12 are being left in the dust,” he said. “It’s kind of blatant deception. I don’t know if WSU or OSU could have done anything. Why would someone want to come to Pullman to play now? That’s sad, because it took decades to get there.”

The best possible path forward for WSU probably lies with joining a new conference, Moos said.

“The one that makes the most sense from the beginning is the Big 12. There are a lot of like institutions,” he said. “I was kind of hoping that was the direction it would go, and maybe it could still. This realignment isn’t over yet.”

With the chaos of transferring players, NIL payouts and administrators all chasing security with the “haves” of the sport, Moos said he’s glad to have his farm at Valleyford.

“There’s just too much uncertainty right now,” he said.

As he ponders the future, Moos said his Montana days stand out.

“I often think back on just how pure and clean and wonderful that was,” Moos said. “To get on a bus with 65 football players and drive 9½ hours to Ogden, Utah, and nobody is complaining about how many Nike jumpsuits they had.”

The players struggled for each other, and for the pride of the school they represented, he said.

“I don’t know where it’s going, but I don’t like the direction,” Moos said. “I’m kind of glad I’m now a rancher.”