The Pacific-12 Conference released its 2012 football schedule Wednesday, and the first thing that jumped out at me was: What took those snoozing loafs in Larry Scott’s office so long?
After all, the not-so-new year already is past the halfway point of its first full week, which means kickoff for the season opener – Northern Colorado at Utah, on Aug. 30 – is a mere 238 days away.
Scott, I take it, isn’t a parent of young kids. If he were, he’d realize the hassle of trying to arrange a baby sitter on 238 days’ notice.
Another thing that jumped out at me was an early over-under line for the Apple Cup in Pullman. I’d put it at 75.
I’m not referring to 75 points. I’m referring to 75 spectators.
Consistent with Scott’s ambition to make every contest involving a Pac-12 team available on some form on national television, the Washington-Washington State game has been moved to the Friday following Thanksgiving. Traditionally the opening day of the Christmas-shopping season, the Friday after Thanksgiving will find tens of millions of crazy people lining up in front of chain stores opening as early as 6 a.m., and tens of fans lining up in front of the Martin Stadium gates.
Full disclosure: I have never visited Pullman on the Friday after Thanksgiving because, I mean, why would I visit Pullman on the Friday after Thanksgiving? But that’s not the point. The point is, nobody else has ever visited Pullman on the Friday after Thanksgiving, either.
As for the WSU students? While I don’t pretend to know how they spend their leisure time in 2012, I suspect they’re just as eager to ditch campus on holiday breaks as my college buddies and I were. We cut out for Thanksgiving a few days after Halloween, returning with enough laundered clothes to make it for the week or so we spent in school before splitting for the winter vacation. (I’m a little ashamed to admit that, given the ridiculously exorbitant cost of a college education. Then again, my tuition was $750 per semester – it only cost that much because I was out of state – which I paid by working graveyard shifts in a railroad yard. So there.)
Anyway, I can’t think of many less convenient destination dates for ticket-holding fans than the Friday after Thanksgiving in Pullman, but the Pac-12 schedule was not arranged for the convenience of ticket-holding fans. It was arranged to comply with the demands of ESPN and Fox, two of the networks responsible for the blockbuster TV contract Scott arranged for the conference last year.
The joint deal with ESPN and Fox was applauded as a breakthrough for the once-stodgy Pac-12 – it finally ushered the league into the 21st century – but came at the risk of capitulating to television-network executives who don’t give a hoot about fans not tethered to a couch.
Thursday nights, for instance, never will be as conducive to a fun college-football experience as Saturday afternoons, but the 2012 schedule has the Huskies in Seattle for a Thursday night game against Stanford on Sept. 27.
Friday nights are synonymous with a fun football experience – for those who follow the sport at the high-school level. There used to be a kind of gentlemen’s agreement maintained by NCAA administrators: no meddling with prep football, the feeder system for college programs. High schools had an unchallenged stage for their Friday night lights.
No longer. The Huskies will travel to California for a nationally televised Friday night game on Nov. 2 – an evening high-school playoffs figure to be approaching full throttle in 50 states.
The memo the Pac-12 has delivered to its feeder system is unmistakable: You’re on your own. We gotta do what we gotta do.
Crass? Sure, it’s crass, but look at it this way: The television contract requiring UW to play one game on a Thursday and two others on a Friday is the same television contract that enabled the Huskies to unload defensive coordinator Nick Holt and assistants Mike Cox and Jeff Mills, even though the school still owes more than $1 million on their contracts. By the time replacements are installed – defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and linebackers coach Peter Sirmon already are on board, from the University of Tennessee – the Huskies will owe more than $1 million to them, too.
In other words, the Washington football program just spent a minimum of $2 million for an overhaul of its defensive-coaching staff, and it spent it in 48 hours.
A flippant disregard for the burden placed on taxpayers funding higher education? No. Football at UW is a self-sustaining economic engine.
The Huskies’ coaching-staff overhaul was made possible by TV money, just as Washington State’s hiring of head coach Mike Leach – for five years, at $11 million – was made possible by TV money.
Given Leach’s reputation as an offensive genius, and the Heisman Trophy campaign awaiting sensational Huskies quarterback Keith Price, the 2012 Apple Cup is looming as a must-see showdown.
And it will be seen by an audience likely unprecedented in the history of an intrastate rivalry that dates back to 1900. The audience will include those fans who actually will be in Martin Stadium on the Friday after Thanksgiving.
I’m thinking 75 will show up. Unless there’s snow, in which case all bets are off.
2012 UW FOOTBALL SCHEDULE
Sept. 1 San Diego State
Sept. 8at LSU
Sept. 15Portland State
Oct. 6at Oregon
Oct. 20at Arizona
Oct. 27Oregon State
Nov. 2**at Cal
Nov. 17at Colorado
Nov. 23**at Washington State
2012 WSU FOOTBALL SCHEDULE
Sept. 1at BYU
Sept. 8Eastern Washington
Sept. 15at UNLV
Oct. 6at Oregon State
Oct. 27at Stanford
Nov. 3at Utah
Nov. 17at Arizona State
Nov. 23**Washington* Thursday game ** Friday game
For the full Pacific-12 Conference schedule, go to UW Insider at blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports