Against college football’s excesses, some relief

  Sunday, we drove in a rented RV past Pac-12 Conference headquarters. Well, not really headquarters. It was the Whitman County courthouse in Colfax, Wash., a west-facing brick edifice that a day later would host the nightcap of the county’s oh-so-odd weekend doubleheader.

  In the opener, Washington State, opening its doors to a Big Ten opponent for the first time in 25 years, frazzled Wisconsin, 31-22. That makes it consecutive Cougar wins over the Badgers as an underdog, first by 17 points and then 6.5.

  The latter half of the twinbill featured a courtroom with WSU and Oregon State against the Chosen Ten, the former members of the Pac-12 who are high-tailing it off to the Big Ten, Big 12 and ACC next year and apparently trying to shake down the Cougars and Beavers for every last available dollar.

  A restraining order was issued in that courtroom that prevents the Pac-12 board of directors from meeting until, well, until it can be determined who the hell should remain on that board – just the surviving two schools, or the rest of the outbound as well. At stake are some serious remaining financial assets.

  Regarding the departing, this seems a bit like informing your spouse that you’re running off with the good-looking young number down the street, and sorry, but would you mind if I packed off the Escalade and the surround-sound system?

  College football, what madness, and don’t take that as a compliment.

  Somebody make it make sense for me. So often, the stuff on the field is so good, but away from the action, it’s a migraine. The communion of fans, the tailgating and conviviality, is a hoot. The hucksters driving the money machine in the backrooms deserve habaneros slipped into their hors d’oeuvres.

  Sunday, the news broke that Michigan State coach Mel Tucker has been suspended while being investigated for sexual harassment of Brenda Tracy, the noted advocate against sexual violence who speaks frequently to college programs. You may recall Tracy having first gained traction from former Oregon State coach Mike Riley, who valued her message after she revealed she had been assaulted.

  According to reports, Tucker’s buyout – if fired without cause (and that would be highly unusual if the allegations around him are legit) – is $77 million. I don’t know what it is about Mel Tucker that Michigan State found so irresistible, because he had a 5-7 record at Colorado in his only season as a head coach before MSU spirited him away a few years ago in a $95-million deal.

  There’s only one other coach in the nation whose buyout equals Tucker’s, and that’s Jimbo Fisher at Texas A&M. His buyout number parallels Tucker’s; it was $86 million as of last December. And how’s he doing? Well, Jimbo’s in his sixth season at A&M, and lost 48-33 at Miami the other night. He’s had one year with fewer than four losses at A&M, and like Tucker, he went 5-7 last year.

  But you know, you just can’t get the second coming of Tom Osborne without anteing up $95 million in today’s warped college-football world.

  Of course, that relates to the raging topic du jour, realignment, and all its dubious tentacles. The most eloquent statement on it was from WSU coach Jake Dickert, delivered emotionally and with a croak in the best tradition of a voice-impaired, defense-grounded guy, to ABC in a happy Wisconsin post-game: “We belong in a Power Five!”

  Stated a little differently, that sentiment could be found on T-shirts at Martin Stadium as well as the back of my RV pass: “Cougs Vs. Everybody”.

  For three hours, the Cougars were a slice of the fun side of college football. They out-schemed Wisconsin early and took a big lead. Then their inability to run – something that, if it continues, will cost them – greased the Badgers’ third-quarter comeback.

  A woman behind me asked her companion skeptically, “They’re not gonna Coug it, are they?”

  They weren’t. As a hot afternoon cooled to a comfortable evening, the Cougars were clutch when they needed to be, especially quarterback Cam Ward. They assembled the clinching drive and as twilight fell, thousands descended happily to the field. Over the P.A., they played House of Pain’s “Jump Around,” trolling the Badgers with Wisconsin’s own anthem.

  Wisconsin was a 19th-ranked team, probably overrated a little, a team still lacking enough playmakers. As such, the field-storm could be seen as excessive, but with the Pac-12 tumult of recent weeks, who’s going to begrudge the fans some catharsis?

  Monday on sports-talk radio in Seattle, Brock Huard, the former Washington quarterback now a football analyst, was saying of the Cougars, “I would hope the staunchest purple-and-gold (fans) realize, man, they’re getting screwed in this deal.”

  I couldn’t help but wonder: If WSU – and its jilted cousin, Oregon State – end up in some variation of the Mountain West, does all this go away – the pageantry, the magnetism of the campus, the joy of victory?

  I hope not. The dark side of the sport has stolen enough from us.