If you’re a Washington Huskies fan, Oct. 21, 2010 should be celebrated for a development so significant that every Oct. 21 hereafter deserves the status of a holiday.
Circle the date in purple ink and mark it as Separation Day, worthy of fireworks and a feast in remembrance of the break the Huskies got by breaking away from the Pacific-10 Conference’s better half.
The realignment of a league whose membership will expand next year to 12 found UW contemplating new ground Thursday, headed toward a football division that also will include Washington State, Oregon, Oregon State, California and Stanford. And even though the formal vote of the conference’s CEOs went as expected, there’s reason for jubilation just the same.
Beginning in 2011, Washington no longer will vie with USC and UCLA in the regular-season standings. Which is to say, in one day, its chances of competing for future league titles increased exponentially.
The Huskies’ chances increased because realignment separates them from the two Pac-10 schools they could call their nemesis: Washington is 28-49-4 all-time against USC, and 29-38-2 all-time against UCLA. Aside from USC and UCLA, the only other Pac-10 team to have beaten the Huskies as often as not is Arizona State, with a 15-15 all-time record – and the Sun Devils have been relegated to the other division, as well.
I know, Oregon is rolling along in a take-no-prisoners phase – the Ducks figure to keep their No. 1 national ranking after their 60-13 thumping of UCLA on Thursday night – and Stanford recently has emerged as a bowl-game fixture under coach Jim Harbaugh. And until that double-overtime thrill-fest last Saturday in Seattle, Oregon State had beaten the Huskies six straight times.
But college football is best seen in the big picture of history, not in five-year or even 10-year trends. History insists climbing to the top of the standings won’t be as difficult in a division where USC and UCLA aren’t looming as annual opponents.
Finishing first in the new divisional format still will leave the winner with unfinished business, thanks to another wrinkle adopted Thursday – a league championship game, to be played at the home site of the team with the best conference record or, in the case of a tie, the team with the better overall record.
So there’s the possibility Washington, for instance, could avoid USC during the regular season, and still end up with a December date against the Trojans for the right to go to the Rose Bowl. I’d like to think all Huskies fans would be giddy savoring the premise of that scenario over the status-quo, but I know better.
Instead of rejoicing the fact USC and UCLA will be conference partners from a distance, news of the two-division format was received with some frowns and groans about how Washington’s recruiting pipeline into southern California has been severed. As the Pac-10 schedule has been constructed, the Huskies were assured a trip to Los Angeles every year. In the Pac-12, the Huskies will get a trip to Los Angeles every other year.
There’s more than a little anxiety among bleeding-purple hearts, apparently, that potential recruits from the L.A. area will shun scholarship offers from Washington because – let me pause here to make sure I’ve got this accurate – the high-school kids won’t be guaranteed one trip, every year, to play in front of their families and friends.
That’s the worry? Really? Yikes!
Once upon a time, I suppose I could appreciate a recruit’s concern about disappearing into the Pacific Northwest, catching a touchdown pass or making a game-saving tackle in a UW victory recapped in a short conference-roundup story in the Sunday newspaper. But this is 2010, and if you play in a college-football game that can’t be watched on television, you’re playing at a small school where obscurity is exchanged for the opportunity to participate in an actual national playoff.
Ever wonder why the Huskies seldom kick off their home games at 12:30 p.m. any more? It’s because they’re on television every week. I’ve got no scientific data to back this up, but I get the sense recruits are more intrigued by the idea of impressing a mass audience on TV than by the idea of playing in front of family members and friends in person.
Elite high-school football prospects are not unlike any other college students pondering the first major decision of their young lives: The general mood of the campus is foremost in the equation – does the place feel right? – and then it breaks down into connecting with coaches. After that, it’s about the facilities and game-day experience at the stadium, along with opportunity for both personal and team success.
There’s maybe 15 variables that figure into a recruit’s decision before he considers the perk of traveling to his hometown once a year. In the Pac-12, the Huskies’ Los Angeles recruits will be guaranteed a hometown appearance once every two years.
If this is a deal-breaker, the kid isn’t worth the deal.
A final thought: Fewer appearances at the Los Angeles Coliseum mean fewer times we’ll have to hear the Trojans’ band play “Conquest” after every USC first down.