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
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
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 naïve.
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.