I’m not the first person on this site to address this new era of conference realignment. Based on the dashboard, I will certainly not be the last. Our slack channel has been a constant stream of messages over the past week or so with everybody sharing their thoughts, frustrations and news they might have about what comes next. It’s been chaos. An unprecedented era not only for Washington State and the Pac-12, but for collegiate sports entirely. A power five conference was picked apart in the span of a week like a carcass in the desert.
Yet, it’s not all that unfamiliar of a feeling. WSU is once again face-to-face with the darkness of the great unknown for the third time in as many years. This time, it’s much more serious and the outlook is as bleak as it can get.
From Leach’s departure, to the pandemic, the Rolovich era and to the news USC and UCLA would be bolting to the Big Ten, WSU has been staring the great unknown down for three years straight. While the changes at head football coach look like mere pricks on the finger compared to the Trojan sword struck into their back by USC and UCLA, asking what’s next isn’t a new question to WSU lately.
But now, things are different.
We are still asking ourselves, what do we do next? This time, it’s a matter of survival in an everchanging collegiate athletics landscape. The writing has probably been on the wall for a long time as Michael Preston laid out here, and we likely just never wanted to see it. Too blinded by our love for our alma mater to realize that our fate may have been sealed long ago. Not wanting to accept the cold reality that we woke up to on Friday morning could actually happen.
We all love this school so much and it’s a pain to see that everything we’ve known for nearly the past century has been thrown away. Your future family get togethers may even look like the ones Steven Ayers explained here.
I really wish I could tell you all what’s going to happen next. I wish I was laying out the details on what WSU’s athletic future looks like. And I really wish it involved us keeping our power five status and regional rivalry history that has existed for over a century.
I’ve come back to write this a few times now. I still don’t really know if I have the words to explain what I’m feeling. Like Michael Scott once said, “Sometimes I’ll start a sentence and I even know where it’s going. I just hope I find it along the way.”
So here goes.
What you’ll read probably won’t be anything new. It might remind you of some thing similar you’ve read, heard or thought to yourself. Maybe you read Kevin Dudley’s piece on here before you read this.
I’m an eternal optimist. Always have been, always will be. It’s crazy to think that despite my fandom allegiances lead to me being an such an emphatic optimist. I mean, I waited my whole life just to watch one Mariner playoff game and dreamt of seeing a top 25 number next to WSU’s name, let alone, watch them play in a bowl game.
But I don’t feel like being that optimist right now.
For as long as I can remember, my Saturdays in the fall were revolved around Cougar football. For better or for worse. For 2018, or for 2008. WSU football, and the Pac-10/12 has been a key part of my life every fall and I assume if you’re reading this, it has been for you too.
The Pac was far from perfect, but maybe that’s why we loved it. The dysfunction, craziness and unpredictability was what kept it so entertaining. Whether we were on the right side of it, or the wrong side of it.
Now it’s all gone and there’s nothing we can do to prevent it. It’s over. All we have left is the grief that our time in the sun, may have finally gone.
There’s no way a full century worth of history and tradition could just fall apart all in one day. How could this happen to us?
While we haven’t been the most successful program in the Pac’s history, how could we be the forgotten school? There are other programs who share an equal track record of success that get to stay afloat but we don’t? Just because they were naturally born in a geographic region that didn’t get picked off? We punch well above our weight in TV viewership numbers and were known around the nation for the passion we have for our alma mater.
There’s no way we could be the ones left to the wayside, left to fall into the shadows and possibly never heard from again in the national spotlight.
Do they not remember College Gameday in 2018? Rece Davis called it the best crowd they’d ever had! There’s no way ESPN and the other big markets could see that passion be relegated away.
I recently moved to the east coast and even people have told me about the times the good times they spent watching WSU deep into the night. They even love us from thousands of miles away with!
Were going to let all that slip away?
It’s a helpless feeling. Were left sitting here having to watch this conference we all loved for it’s tradition, pageantry and history collapse within just a matter of hours. Everything we love about college football just evaporated by TV executives who believe that now is the time for a shift in the way we view college football.
Regional rivalries are gone and in it’s place are now primetime games pitting two teams from opposite coasts with large followings and media bases. Gone are the days of an early October matchup between two underdog schools looking to continue it’s path to a season of destiny. Now we have two schools rich with history looking to continue to add yet another trophy to their already extensive collection. That’s apparently what we want now. The high-stakes matchups with teams looking to retain and build upon their high-profile statuses.
Now those smaller schools are still going to play, but for what? An opportunity to be lambs to the slaughter in December so we can watch those same big-schools play each other again and again? To boost the egos of those who are now at an even higher advantage than us?
The greed of executives and those in higher power who believe what they are doing is in the best interest of their brands. Failing to think about what the consequences will be for those who aren’t apart of the fortunate few who don’t get a seat at the table.
It’s easy to shake your fist and type out profanities at whoever you feel is most responsible for our feelings of being gutted for reasons we fail to fully comprehend and accept. Why do they have to do this to us? Why do they feel they have the power to change the sports we have all loved for it’s century long traditions and pageantries? Forget your two-faced offer to continue to preserve the history of our rivalries, you already have that chance and decided to pursue what made you richer without even a second thought of those who will suffer.
Why should we adhere to the ones who left us behind? The ones who had the chance to stop the bleeding and keep it all together in the name of what made us all love this sport and conference. Of course, they aren’t the only ones to blame. So many more before them have paved the way to the crossroads we reached.
Even those who “benefit” from the seismic move will suffer greatly. Your own athletes are calling out your lies of claiming that you are doing what’s in the best interest of your student-athletes. Landing just mere hours before class starts on a Tuesday morning after a six-hour red-eye flight across the country just so your football program can be rubbing elbows with the game’s most elite programs.
The decisions made by those who have seized full control of the college football landscape will create opportunities and riches for those already well off comes at the cost of many more jobs lost because of the likely relegation we are faced with.
You know what? Forget them. I hope Jake Dickert has the boys ready to go to war this season. I want us to lay waste to all the eight members who decided to leave us behind. Run up the score and let them know about it every time. I hope we come out every game mad as hell. Make this the revenge tour.
Look, this isn’t totally the end for Washington State athletics as much as it feels like it is. In September 2024, we will still wake up on Saturdays, make our way to Pullman or our TVs, and watch our beloved alma mater because it’s all we know. It’s going to look and feel different than it did before. Even if we get that life raft to the Big 12, it’s not going to be a joyous day like those believed they experienced on Friday. A sigh of relief that relegation was avoided? Sure. But it still won’t have our rivalries were used to.
If it is a relegation to a zombie Pac-12/Mountain West hybrid, then there’s a good chance WSU is the top dog in that conference. We have a chance to whoop on the schools that don’t have the same facilities, history and tradition we offer. We’ve always been the bottom feeder, now we get to experience what it’s like to be at the top. If were going to make a run at College Football Playoff, an easier conference schedule could certainly help clear the way to an at-large bid as a high ranked conference champion.
And hey, remember when we drank Auburn dry? Well now we can do that again in some pretty cool places. We get to do road games in Las Vegas and Hawaii? That sure sounds like some premier away game destinations.
Again, it’s not like WSU Athletics ceases to exist. They’ll still be there. We still get to root for our crimson and gray. Were far from done. It’s just a mere adaption that will take time to get used to. The passion for the program will in fact return even when were not playing in the Pac.
But even if we have that opportunity to climb up against a weaker conference, when has WSU ever proved it’s capable of doing that outside of the handful of magical runs?
Look, WSU was probably just lucky to even be in the Pac in the first place. Our academics aren’t outstanding and we have rarely made up for it on the field or court.
Without the spotlight of being in a premier conference, it’s going to be hard to stir up the passion I’ve carried for the past 25 years of my life every Saturday. I’m not going to get excited to watch the Wyoming Cowboys come to down. We used to have the USC Trojans. A trip to San Jose State every other year isn’t the same as traveling to the Rose Bowl for a primetime game against UCLA. The days of dreaming for Pac-12 Championships and Rose Bowl appearances are dead and with it, WSU’s time in the national spotlight.
As a kid, I remember watching old WSU highlights and wondering when am I going to see my version of these. Bledsoe to Bobo in the snow, upsetting #1 UCLA, Drew Dunning sliding across the logo after slaying USC in overtime. I got those. Shalom Luani ends the game in Eugene, Falk to Marks at the Rose Bowl, Jahad Woods clean to Sam Darnold, Minshew to Patmon and so many more.
I’m not going to get those same memories anymore. It’s hard for me to picture myself feeling the same sense of joy and pride I had in those moments for games against opponents that used to be a tier below us.
Are my future kids going to grasp the concept of how important those moments really were?
I know these memories have been football based but that’s all this conference realignment has been about. Only looking after football programs while the others are afterthoughts.
I love my alma mater too much to late them go to the wayside. They will always be something I take the upmost pride in. The memories, experiences and lessons I learned in my three years in Pullman, Washington, on top of the near two decades of being a Coug fan before then, are too important to me to let something like this deter me from supporting them every chance I get.
My family’s attachment, dedication and love for the school that brings us all together are too important to me.
We were probably always on a collision course for these super conferences to emerge and yeah, it sucks getting left behind. It really sucks that the day has arrived sooner than we anticipated.
But I will be damned if I let TV executives ruin my love for my alma mater. Being a Coug has always been apart of my identity and that will never change. So bring on what’s next, for better or for worse.
This could truly be it for WSU’s time as a power conference member. It’s the reality I have to accept. I may not fully accept it tomorrow, next week or even at kickoff of that first game.
But I will still be here every Saturday, donning the colors I hold so dearly to my heart. Wearing my schools’ crest with pride anywhere I go. Giving a Go Cougs to any other I see along the way.
This is far from the end for Washington State, as much as it may feel like it. Were from Washington. We’ve seen what the dark clouds look like. But the sun does eventually poke through.
While the sun on Washington State may not shine as bright as it once did, it will shine again. We may look back on the fond days we spent in the bright summer sun, but we must look on to our next chapter.
Washington by birth, state by the grace of god.