Day-after notions: Flight on, Trojans

Thursday was the most head-banging, jaw-dropping sports day I can remember. Even if we’re lumping in administrative moves – as opposed to a competition like the 1980 U.S. hockey win over Russia, or Buster Douglas’ 42-to-1 conquest of Mike Tyson in 1990 – it figuratively shook the earth.

  All the college realignment that came before — Texas and Oklahoma to the SEC, Rutgers and Maryland to the Big Ten — all that was a yawner compared to USC and UCLA bolting the Pac-12 for the Big Ten. This was the first movement of major national players defecting to a league multiple time zones away. It annihilated the notion that you needed to be relatively proximate to a conference to pull up stakes.

  The day’s events took me back to the 1970s and a time when there were lots of murmurs about a breakup of Pac-8 schools. And the events of 4-5 decades ago bore notes similar to the forces that Thursday shoved USC and UCLA out the door.

  Oregon, Oregon State and Washington State were football-poor schools in the ’70s, lagging in attendance and beset by lousy weather in November. The LA schools (which were a hell of a lot more powerful than today) complained that the gate revenues they were realizing when they traveled to the Northwest were pittances compared to the 50-50 split when they hosted them. (As I recall, the guarantee for visitors was a mere $125,000.) There was serious sentiment for booting Oregon, OSU and WSU from the Pac-8.

  The Northwest three were hand-to-mouth. It got so bad that in 1976, Oregon cut off food in the press box. (Understand, that’s not a press-guy whining; we’d have been happy to pay for it. But it didn’t exist in any form.) So we Eugene Register-Guard sports types rotated, bringing lunch for our group at each game. For the Civil War game between Oregon and Oregon State, we staged a pregame potluck, with everybody pitching in on a red-checkered tablecloth. The protest, if you want to call it that, was enough to gain mention in the LA Times when it did a piece on the financial plight of the Northwest three.

  In 1977, food returned to the press box.

And of course, Oregon, OSU and WSU remained in the league. Now it’s the LA schools who fled.

  Random thoughts on the day after the earth shook:

  • Making a move for money, and that’s what this is entirely, has its own unassailable defense. But it occurred to me: Who with an interest in USC and UCLA likes this? Student-athletes who will be flying 4-5 hours with regularity for volleyball or soccer might not. Parents of those kids might not. I don’t think most alums will be wild about it (yeah, it’s Michigan and Ohio State and Penn State, but it’s also Minnesota and Maryland and Illinois). That leaves casual college-football fans, who might get better choices on TV, and the bean counters at USC and UCLA. As Pat Forde wrote in Sports Illustrated, “It’s good for a few people. It’s bad for everyone else.”
  • About that travel: It’s routine for college-football teams going two time zones or more to fly two days before games, so Thursday departures for Saturday games will become de rigueur for the LA schools. Flight on, Trojans.
  • For a lot of years, Stanford athletics has won the college all-sports competition, excelling in a wide range of offerings. That’s in addition to the top-shelf academic reputation. And what’s that all worth in this game? The Cardinal are out on the street like almost everybody else.
  • UCLA chancellor Gene Block has always been one of the least engaged Pac-12 CEOs vis a vis athletics. Suddenly, he got interested.
  • With Pat Chun as athletic director and Kirk Schulz as president, Washington State has the best possible administrators in place for an optimal outcome. The question is whether, in a cash-grabbing environment, that will matter.
  • In January, Oregon State tore down its aging west grandstand and began construction on a new one. Suppose the OSU board of regents would have been excited about that if AD Scott Barnes had told them, “We need this to be able to compete in the Mountain West.”?
  • Consider Utah. It was added to the Pac-10 in 2011, an occasion for great hosannas below the Wasatch Range. The Utes needed several years to build a roster to Pac-12 standards, eclipsed everybody in the Pac-12 South and is now the premier program in that division and perhaps the conference. And here’s Utah a decade later, checking its hole card again.
  • The Rose Bowl has been the best bowl, bar none, hands down, end of story. Today: So much for the Rose Bowl. Going forward, it probably exists only as a piece of playoff structure.
  • Yes, you can finger Larry Scott for leaving the Pac-12 vulnerable, and he had a major hand in it. But, in what was generally yippee-skippy coverage of the USC-UCLA story Friday in the LA Times, it was almost ignored that the Pac-12’s two anchor schools helped make this bed with their own competitive incompetence. UCLA hasn’t been to a Rose Bowl since 1999, hasn’t won one since 1986. And since 1983, not counting interim replacements, USC has fired seven of its last eight football coaches (Pete Carroll the exception).  In eight years, it hasn’t sniffed the college-football playoff.