After losing just two games all season by a total of six points in a loaded Pac-12, Oregon State will play its last-ever home game in the Conference of Champions on Saturday night against College Football Playoff hopeful Washington.
But, as we all know, Oregon State and fellow Pac-2 cohort Washington State aren’t merely taking on the 10 departing Pac-12 schools on the field. There’s also the battle being waged in the courtroom. And come Tuesday night, the Pac-2 could score their most consequential victory of the season through their preliminary injunction hearing in Whitman County Superior Court.
Washington-Oregon State is attractive enough to garner primetime ABC coverage. Yet, none of the rich storylines surrounding the game will be center stage on ESPN’s College GameDay show on Saturday morning. Instead of making the trek to Corvallis for the most important game of the day, the GameDay crew is headed to Harrisonburg, Virginia, for Appalachian State at James Madison.
Unbeaten No. 18 James Madison (10-0) is a compelling story. On Nov. 7, the Dukes petitioned the NCAA Division I board of directors for the opportunity to compete in a bowl game. They are in their second year of transitioning from the FCS to the FBS – which prevents them from being eligible for a bowl game this season, per NCAA rules.
Best story this weekend is at Oregon State
But the best story Saturday – a historic story – will take shape in Corvallis.
The league hasn’t earned a College Football Playoff berth since the 2016 season. Washington (10-0) and Oregon (9-1) are squarely in the hunt.
Oregon State is poised to try to crash that party, especially at home. It’s the last season of a 108-year-old conference whose history is steeped with indelible luminaries, from Jackie Robinson to Bill Walton to Reggie Bush. The Beavers are facing an existential crisis as they and WSU look to rebuild the Pac-12 rubble or secure a reverse merger with the Mountain West Conference.
The all-important Whitman County court ruling will determine whether OSU and WSU will have control of lucrative assets within and governance of the Pac-12.
What this season has underscored is that the Pac-12 wasn’t ruined because of an inferior on-field product. Quite the contrary. Late Saturday nights have routinely been superb, even with officiating that routinely has been less than superb.
The league was ruined because of poor media rights strategy, decisions and messaging by a green commissioner, George Kliavkoff, and seemingly out-of-touch university presidents.
Given all that was lost, this closing chapter of the Pac-12 warrants a late-season spotlight. All the issues at play set in motion a frenzied, historic summer of realignment that shifted the landscape’s tectonic plates.
In light of media personality Pat McAfee‘s bizarre early-season criticism of Washington State, punting on a visit to another member of the Pac-2 is a missed opportunity. And it’s hard for Oregon State loyalists not to view this as another dis of the Pac-2 by ESPN.
Why did ESPN pass on Oregon State?
Then again, if ESPN wants to minimize conversation about the sobering TV dollars-driven reality of college football and the role a changing media rights space played in the collapse of the conference, then passing on a trip to Corvallis is the way to go.
You can’t set up camp in Corvallis without addressing the elephant in the room: the outsized influence of television networks in college football. The notion that they are puppet masters helping to drive conference realignment moves certainly wasn’t tamped down this summer.
As Pac-12 insider John Canzano wrote, ESPN “decided to avoid a potentially awkward scene, given that television played a role in the demise of the Pac-12. Maybe the network was concerned there would be backlash.”
It’s a missed opportunity to take it all on, address it and spotlight one of the better stories around. Oregon State confronts an existential crisis while it is surging on the field – potentially winning in the courts – and in a league that has been must-see TV.
We’ll just have to wait for the ESPN 30 for 30 episode.
No Harbaugh means huge viewership numbers
Some 9.16 million tuned in for Michigan’s blocking and tackling clinic, making it the sixth time this season that a college game has eclipsed nine million viewers. Saturday morning provided high drama as fans, players and administrators alike awaited word on whether a Michigan judge would grant Harbaugh a temporary restraining order in time for him to coach the game, which was broadcast on FOX’s “Big Noon Saturday.”
There was no ruling. And now the wait is on to see if Harbaugh will receive a favorable ruling in Friday’s hearing – he plans to be there – that will allow him to coach Saturday at Maryland. The Big Ten suspended Harbaugh for the final three games of the regular season – though he can coach the team throughout the week – in light of the advanced, in-person sign-stealing scandal.
FOX scored the two most-watched games last weekend. Along with Michigan-Penn State, the exciting Utah–Washington game in Seattle drew 5.17 million viewers in the afternoon window.