“Nobody — and I don’t care if you’re Warren Buffett or if you’re Jimmy Buffett — nobody knows if a stock is going to go up, down, sideways or in circles.”
That was Matthew McConaughey’s character from an early scene in “The Wolf of Wall Street.” It was an honest moment from a not-so-honest stockbroker summarizing the knowledge of so-called experts. And right now, the future of Huskies athletics and college football at large is akin to any stock on Wall Street. Nobody knows what’s going to happen.
What we do know is that the UW is scrambling like a family that just walked into a burglarized home. Much of what it thought it had — perhaps much of what it took for granted — has been taken away. UCLA and USC fled to the Big Ten despite a gentlemen’s agreement from the conference that there would be no poaching. So now the Huskies have to scurry toward a solution — a solution, that I have to think, will be only short term.
Times reporter Mike Vorel laid out Washington’s potential landing spots in a thorough analysis Tuesday. Among the prospects: A move to the Big Ten, which is likely the most desired destination should that conference take an (unlikely) interest. Bolting for the Big 12, which seems more realistic but would represent a competitive downgrade from the Big Ten. Or a “loose” alliance with the ACC, which could keep the now Southern California-less Pac-12 relatively intact while setting up a championship game — and perhaps some intriguing matchups — between the transcontinental leagues.
Any one of these scenarios is possible, even if some seem far more possible than others. What seems closer to impossible is that any choice the Huskies make in the short term will resemble their situation five or 10 years from now.
It seems fitting that the biggest college football story of the year came out of Southern California. That’s the earthquake capital of the nation, and USC’s and UCLA’s pending departure from the Pac-12 shook up the conference and the country. The Pac-12 may dissolve completely before the next turn of the decade. And the SEC and Big Ten solidified themselves as the NCAA’s super powers whose spots on the podium tower over any potential bronze medalist.
A Pac-12/ACC alliance could be intriguing — particularly if it brings some of the more competitive Big 12 schools such as Oklahoma State, Baylor, Cincinnati or Houston into the fold. But the SEC and the Big Ten are like college football’s Corleone family — they own the muscle in town, and if you’re not in with them, you’re a mere outsider.
Right now the Huskies’ goal is to keep themselves as relevant as possible to set themselves up for a move down the road. The prevailing thought now (and, yes, prevailing thoughts today could be outdated ones tomorrow) is that college football is heading toward a superconference era in which, as the Sporting News’ Bill Bender writes, the SEC and Big Ten will play the roles of the NFC and AFC.
If that’s true — Washington has to find its way into one of those leagues eventually or forever forfeit its place in the national-championship conversation. That’s why any deal you see the Huskies make now will almost assuredly be for the short term. As Vorel pointed out Wednesday, it’s unlikely that Washington (or Oregon) agrees to a long-term grant of rights agreement that prevents it from eventually joining the SEC or Big Ten.
For a sports analogy within a sports column, consider UW’s next move to be like Thursday and Friday of a golf tournament. All the Huskies can do right now is put themselves in the best position to compete during the weekend. They can’t win with their next move, but they can certainly lose with the wrong decision or a lack of action.
If prospective recruits don’t think they have a chance to win or compete for something prestigious by coming to Washington, UW could potentially fade to athletic obscurity. Yes, there is tradition on Montlake, but nothing compared with the titans of college football such as Alabama, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Michigan and a slew of other programs perched high above the Huskies.
Fans of schools such as a Washington State have to be feeling fears of future irrelevance with college football’s shake-up. It’s not impossible that Huskies fans join them at some point.
Washington’s next move in the college-football realm will spawn headlines no matter what it does. But that move will almost assuredly be temporary.
At least the Huskies hope it will. If not, they could very well be condemned to college football’s doldrums.