Monday Rewind: Travel thoughts for USC and UCLA, Dante Moore to Oregon, and Wazzu stock
Welcome back to the Monday Rewind. Hope the weekend was good to you. Let’s dive in.
Thinking about travel
The calculus of USC and UCLA’s Pac-12 exit is completely different for every other non-football sport than it is for football.
Moving to the Big Ten makes all the sense in the world for football. More revenue. More spotlight. Better games. For the first few years the athletic departments will be able to sell the novelty of travel to new and never-before-attended (kinda) stadiums. The travel gets a little hairy in spots but don’t expect the Big Ten to send USC to Rutgers for a Thursday night game then back home to L.A. the following week, then back to Penn State a week later. There should be some common-sense scheduling happening—and if there isn’t initially, enough people will complain that there will be eventually. Plus, travel budgets just got bigger. Check that. Every budget just got bigger.
Moving to the Big Ten, however, poses problems for sports like basketball and baseball and soccer and volleyball.
Competition isn’t one of them, of course. The Bruins and Trojans are now in a basketball league that occupies 37 of the 64 NCAA Tournament spots on Selection Sunday. That extra credibility will be good for Andy Enfield’s program, which deserves a little more respect than it currently gets. Plus, hey, now the Big Ten gets a team that can actually advance past the Round of 32.
It’s a great volleyball conference, too. Moreover, it’s a league that cares about the achievements of all its student-athletes, not just the money-making ones. In that way, it’ll feel like home.
But it sure won’t feel like home when the basketball squad is sequestered in a hotel for the 17th night of the month waiting for a January night game against Indiana.
The NBA’s way of scheduling cross-country travel immediately jumps to mind. When an Eastern Conference team heads west for a road trip, it usually stays out west for a bit. Less strain on the athletes’ bodies, less bouncing around.
As the Big Ten uses these next two years to figure out its scheduling model, maybe it should look something like that.
Let’s say USC goes and spends three weeks on the road in order to knock out league games in January and February. Maryland and Rutgers and Ohio State and Penn State and Michigan and Michigan State are on the itinerary.
COVID showed universities they can effectively program online learning into their current curriculum. Student-athletes on the road can just join in for lectures on zoom. Everyone already submits assignments online anyway. Missed class time doesn’t feel like it will be much of an issue to the folks who will go about planning all of this. The in-person part will be missed, the coursework won’t.
And then when the Trojans return to Los Angeles, they’re home for three weeks while the rest of the league comes to them.
How does Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann feel about another team in his league getting home games for three weeks straight? Competitive advantage? Does he want the same for his team? Or does the grueling three-week stretch USC just spent on the road balance everything out?
If UCLA spends January on the road and the February at home, theoretically the Bruins could catch fire heading into March. If the inverse happens, a three-week road trip could destroy a promising season if something goes wrong.
Is the Big Ten going to adjust start times to account for the body clocks of the West Coast athletes coming over? Or are they the ones who will need to adjust? (The answer here is obvious, it’s just not clear if the Big Ten is going to do the logical thing.)
And if this is really how we’re going to schedule, are the USC and UCLA student-athletes good with that? Spending weeks at a time on flights and in hotels and away from home? When the novelty wears off, how do the non-revenue-generating teams feel about the new way their seasons lay out?
Maybe it’s all well and good and things go off without a hitch. We shall see.
More than anything, the two weeks of discourse since USC and UCLA announced designs to join the Big Ten has convinced me of one thing: we need football-specific conference affiliations.
Oregon’s recruiting is going to be just fine
Three Oregon recruits in the 2022 class came from the state of California. Six came from the state in the 2021 class. Eight came from the state in the 2020 class. Each of the five highest-ranked recruits from the 2019 class (11 total) came from the state. Thirteen came from the Tate in the 2018 class.
Duck fans have seen the narrative building since USC announced it was jumping to the Big Ten. With a new league for the Trojans and more visibility for the rest of the Big Ten in California, the Ducks’ success recruiting the state will take a hit.
Oregon won’t be able to sign the same kinds of prospects because they’ll either go to USC to play in the Big Ten or they’ll go to Michigan because the Wolverines play in California now.
And while that narrative was spinning itself, Oregon landed a commitment from the No. 1 player in the state of Washington—a top-100 corner—and the No. 1 player from the state of Michigan—a 5-star quarterback Jim Harbaugh offered a scholarship to as a middle-schooler.
Dante Moore’s recruitment offers an important reminder: Oregon is still a national brand.
It also offered another reminder. This staff was hailed as an all-star collection of recruiters when it was put together. Turns out they can actually recruit. Funny that.
When Moore committed live on SportsCenter last Friday, he was asked what led him to pick the Ducks.
“Coach Lanning being the head coach,” he said. “He just came off of a national championship and he knows what it takes to get to a national championship and how to build a program.”
Winning still matters. And Lanning’s pedigree as a winner has Oregon recruiting coast to coast. The Ducks are hunting 5-stars in Florida. They’re after elite defensive prospects in the SEC footprint. Recruits have come away from Eugene calling it an SEC school on the West Coast.
A reminder that not too long ago a Mike Riley-led Nebraska program was pulling 4-stars from California. Relationships matter above all. If Lanning and his guys have relationships with high schools in Southern California, those coaches aren’t going to suddenly start deleting phone numbers because one team plays in new league.
Will there be another layer to the recruitment of the state’s very best prospects? Undoubtedly. Will that prove to be a barrier? Sure, in certain situations.
But we won’t see that play out for a while. The thinking that California will suddenly become closed off to Oregon also rests upon the assumption USC will walk into the Big Ten and win 10 games every year.
Oregon is a finalist alongside Alabama and Georgia for 5-star running back Richard Young, the No. 2 back in America. He plays in Florida. If Lanning can win in Eugene, Oregon fans are going to see more of that going forward.
California matters. Don’t expect Oregon to close up shop and ditch the state. But don’t expect Lanning to think Oregon can only pull talent from one part of the country, either.
Washington State is… anyone’s guess
We got updated FPI numbers from ESPN this past week. The Washington State Cougars are, according to FPI projections, entering the 2022 season as the 79th-ranked team in college football.
That’s behind seven teams from the American, four from the Sun Belt, three from the C-USA and the Mountain West, and one from the MAC.
That’s ahead of seven from the Power Five ranks—Northwestern, Rutgers, Colorado, Arizona, Duke, Kansas, and Vanderbilt.
Amid suggestions the Cougars could try their luck in the Big Sky if the Pac-12 collapses, this feels like an excellent time to buy some Washington State stock. At least for 2022. Introduce some Cam Ward into your life. You’ll be better for it.
Shoutouts of the week
- Sabrina Ionescu, New York Liberty guard: The former Oregon standout played in her first WNBA All-Star game over the weekend. She finished with 19 points, six assists, and six boards to help her team to a 134-112 win on Sunday. She won the skills competition on Saturday, the first Liberty player to ever do so. Before the All-Star break started, she became the first player in WNBA history to record a 30-point triple-double.
- Martin Jarmond, UCLA athletic director: Many have poo-pooed the Bruins for riding cardinal coattails into the Big Ten, but give UCLA’s AD major kudos here. The Bruins, according to The Los Angeles Times’ Ben Bolch, have built up a $103 million athletic department deficit over the last three years. Stasis would have likely meant some UCLA sports were going to be axed. In the Big Ten, the Bruins will fetch a reported $100-million-a-year payout from the league’s next media rights deal. That changes the outlook quite a bit.