Friday, December 29, 2023

And Then...Chaos

As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Over the years, most of these bleacher musings have been drafted late at night.  With the sun long set and the day’s duties done, the body rests, the mind calms and the keys beckon.  Midnight often passes unnoticed; as a hard-wired night owl, the wee-est (a word?) hours of the morning provide the best inspiration. 

Music is a common companion – preferably something old and on vinyl.  The television is usually on, but muted.  Given the time, it is tuned to some far away, magical west coast sports offering from a place I’ve never been.  The memories are long and distinguished.  Boise State University’s blue football field.  An early fall snow during a game at BYU.  NBA games in Denver or Portland.  Dodgers games in the setting sun at Chavez Ravine - idyllic.  True to form, at this very moment, the Orioles game in Seattle is on and Bruce Springsteen’s “Greetings from Asbury Park” record is spinning.

There was a purposeful omission from those late-night sports credits: the Pac-12 conference, that great western bastion of college sports and, being three perfect hours behind eastern standard time, a treasured wingman during the crafting of many “Views”.  UCLA basketball games from Pauley Pavilion.  USC football from the Coliseum.  Oregon football’s latest fabulously tacky uniform.  Stanford-Cal.  Washington-Washington St.  Arizona-Arizona St.  Those names, places and rivalries – great memories.

A few years ago, a world without the Pac-12 would have seemed unimaginable.  Then last year, USC and UCLA, cornerstone Pac-12 schools, announced they would join the B1G Conference in 2024.  The money grab in college sports, masquerading as conference musical chairs, had reached a new level.  The next obvious question: would USC’s and UCLA’s departures prove fatal for the Pac-12?  Question…answered.  Last week, five schools – Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Arizona St. and Utah, announced they would depart the Pac-12 for the BIG and Big 12 conferences. 

Start drafting the Pac-12’s eulogy.  Total chaos just became reality.  Where does it end?  Do the ACC and Big 12 survive.  Or maybe they ultimately get carved up and fed to the SEC and B1G, thereby creating two super-conferences.  Suddenly Maryland’s painful move to the B1G a decade ago appears to be proactive genius. 

The understandable emotional reaction to all of this is to lament the loss of order, the familiar and how things used to be, and to point at the fluid landscape, shout it down as soulless greed and declare that once-great college sports will never be great again. 

There’s a lot of that going around, in sports and other aspects of life.  And I’m guilty in this case.  No Pac-12?  More shape-shifting?  Bah!  But that is nostalgia’s trap and regrettably na├»ve.

Stability is an illusion, a temporary state at best.  Change is the only constant, as they say.  And the mysterious and often cited “they” are, in this case, correct.  The loss of rivalries and player movement are disrupters, but when crying in our beers, ponder the gains.  College athletes are now free to roam and profit from their labor.  They are no longer indentured servants of the NCAA and universities, helpless to pursue personal interests when coaches move or programs go on probation.  With scholarships no longer four-year contracts, and with conference alignment more a casual intent than a marriage, sustained success is harder, but building a winning program is arguably easier (the test of that statement may be Colorado this season, where head coach Deion Sanders inherited a 1-11 team and has aggressively reconstructed the roster). 

Admittedly, that little pep talk was as much for me as it was for you.  The Pac-12’s cannibalization stings.  The classic rivalries will be sorely missed; much like this Maryland fan misses basketball games against Duke and North Carolina.  However, a Maryland basketball game at UCLA or a football game against USC at the Coliseum sounds fabulous, particularly if played late on a Saturday night while I am pounding out words for the following week’s “A View from the Bleachers.” 

As for handling life’s non-sports changes, I need advice more than I am positioned to give it.  If you have any, send me an email.  I’m always up late. 

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