You’ve probably never heard of the Dixie Rotary Bowl. You may not have heard of Robin Ross, though he was second team all-Pac-8 back in 1974-75 for the Cougs. So maybe you have.
Coach Ross and the Dixie Rotary Bowl are all I can think about right now.
I grew up going to Western Washington University football games. My dad played for a year back in the day (and I sported his letterman jacket for a solid 9 months back in 5th grade). My high school Young Life leader was an all-American for WWU. I wouldn’t call it a religion — it’s not like Bellingham is Tuscaloosa — but I remember the taste of polish sausage, mustard, and raw onions that the Lions club served up to me when I popped by a game on Saturdays. I had a P.E. teacher who played for a title back in the day, I think.
It mattered is what I’m saying. At least to me.
The 2008 WWU season ended with a win in the Dixie Rotary Bowl. I remember wondering when Division II bowl games started being a thing when I read about it, but being happy the program was finding some success, nonetheless.
Then one day in January of 2009, head coach Robin Ross walked into a meeting with university president Bruce Shepard and the Dixie Rotary Bowl became the last football game WWU would ever play.
Just like that.
Ross and his staff were in recruits’ living rooms in the weeks before the meeting. Ross commented to the student paper that it was “a blindside shot”. Those were still legal back in 2010.
It also describes how I’m feeling in the wake of LA suddenly becoming Big Ten territory.
I don’t really understand how the defection of a couple schools based in LA feels like the end of a program. I know it certainly is *not* the end of WSU football. We have many more games ahead of us. Where they will be, who they will be against, and how much economic power they will command is yet to be determined.
The scuttlebutt is that this could be the end of the Pac-12/10/8 all together, and if it’s true that two middling 20th century programs leaving can burn the whole place to the ground, well perhaps it was all too messed up to last, anyway.
Amidst the uncertainty it feels like the ceiling is coming down around the WSU program. Lower TV rights deals means lower pay outs, lower pay outs mean worse facilities, less money for coaches, less exposure for recruits, and generally fewer reasons for people to come find out why we all love Pullman.
Which is a shame.
With the transfer portal sending players anywhere at the drop of a hat, and name, imagine and likeness deals paying out seven figures to the game’s top athletes, it is far too easy to imagine darkness ahead. To feel a bit too close to an Idaho program that dropped down a division and, well, didn’t really find the success there they were looking for.
Washington State Football will continue, but much like those raw onions at WWU games feel like a part of my history, big time football on the Palouse feels the same. Pete Carroll running through the Martin Stadium tunnel matters. Brady Hoke doing the same … can still be fun. I guess.
Change has happened before. Coach Ross played in the Pac-8. I played in the Pac-10. It’s been the Pac-12 for over a decade. Things change, WSU football has always gone on, and never really stepped back.
It is not time to lose spirit now. WSU is not, by any definition imaginable, WWU.
But I was in Coach Ross’ office once, as a 17-year-old. He told me they’d love to have me, but he knew what kind of athlete I was. So he mostly just wanted to let me know he was around for any advice or help as I went through the process.
I was a local kid and he wanted to do right by me, and the whole process of big-time college football was murky and surprising, so here was his phone number, and, shoot, his office wasn’t more than a 15-minute walk from my high school. So feel free to pop on by if I needed to.
I liked Coach Robin Ross in that moment. I liked the idea of Pac-10 football a heck of a lot more though.
In the end, I just might end up losing them both.