BY Art Thiel 05:12PM 10/22/2018

Thiel: Huskies, Cougs doing well, Pac-12 not so

The Cougars are ranked 14th and the Huskies 15th, but the Pac-12’s handling of a controversy involving a replay non-call is just plain rank. Looking at you, Commissioner Larry Scott.

QB Jake Browning had 26 yards on five carries Saturday. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

Beyond the 27-13 win over Colorado, news kept getting better for Washington football over the weekend. Later on Saturday, Washington State throttled Oregon 34-20 in Pullman, prompting a drain on statewide liquor sales that likely kept many UW players and most of Western Washington sober Saturday night.

The Ducks’ second conference loss means that the Huskies (6-2, 4-1) and Cougars (6-1, 3-1) are in the lead for the Pac-12 North Division title that, should both win out, would mean the Nov. 23 Apple Cup would be fraught with meaning, as well as unkempt behavior.

The Cougars leaped from 25th to 14th in the Associated Press poll Sunday, one spot ahead of the Huskies, offering coach Chris Petersen a rare chance to play the underdog card.

But Petersen was his usual cat-in-a-bucket-of-water self when it came to getting ahead of things, or even giving WSU coach Mike Leach bouquets for saving a Huskies season that looked ambushed after the 30-27 OT defeat a week earlier in Eugene.

“I’ll just say that there’s so much football left to play,” Petersen said at his weekly Monday presser. “You worry about somebody else and you don’t take care of your own business. The main thing is, we won. Certainly how that game (WSU over Oregon) went probably helped us. But it doesn’t help much if we don’t take care of ourselves this weekend.”

That would be 3:3o p.m. Saturday (FS1) in Berkeley against a Cal team that is 4-3, but has only one conference win, 49-7 win over Division IV Oregon State.  Washington is a 10½-point favorite to do something similar to what it did a year ago — win 33-7 by holding the Bears to 93 yards of total offense.

Meanwhile, news for the rest of the Pac-12 is not as good.

Following a 1-8 performance in the bowls the past winter, the conference this season already has been unofficially eliminated from consideration for the four-team College Football Playoffs for the second year in a row. The mere fact that the Cougars are the conference’s highest-ranked team — something that hasn’t happened since 2002 when the Cougars were No. 3 entering the Apple Cup — tells all that needs to be known nationally.

Even if the Cougars ran the table, their non-conference schedule — wins over Wyoming, San Jose State and Eastern Washington — is sufficiently laughable to get a gig on Comedy Central, but not a look from the selection committee.

The league’s credibility took  a further hit last week when a Yahoo! Sports report revealed that the replay department mysteriously failed to make an obvious targeting call against USC’s Porter Gustin on Cougars QB Gardner Minshew in the Sept. 21 game that turned into WSU’s only loss.

The decision to not impose a foul came from Woodie Dixon, the league’s top lawyer, who is not a trained official, nor was he present at league headquarters where the replay outfit resides. But he telephoned into the office and apparently ordered the non-call to stand.

In a series of texts to Dixon and Commissioner Larry Scott, disclosed by Yahoo! after a public records request, a furious Leach ripped the conference a new one, calling Dixon a coward, fearful of USC.

Wrote Leach to Dixon: “Don’t ever waste my time, making me sit through some sanctimonious speech or demonstration on player safety or targeting if you are going to continue to alibi what happened last Friday.”

Leach wrote in a text message to Scott: “The Pac-12 cannot say with any credibility, that they are actually trying to protect student athletes.”

As the controversy swirled over the integrity of officiating, Scott, to his credit, met with reporters at halftime of the games in Seattle and Pullman — a frequent-flyer move of high distinction — to try to explain what happened. But the credit began to dissolve as his explanation sounded more worthy of the Saudi royal family.

Scott laid it off to a “breakdown in protocol” and a “miscommunication” between Dixon and replay officials.

“There were two mistakes,” he told reporters at Husky Stadium. “One is ambiguity about who has the final call when it comes to replay. The second involves someone (Dixon) in the process who was supposed to be in a support role. The optics could be a conflict of interest.

“The mistake was the design of it, so I take responsibility for that.”

None of that explains how a league could have gone this long with an ambiguous replay policy that Scott earlier told The Oregonian “wasn’t written down,” which is another surprising mystery. And it left open the possibility of shenanigans previous to the WSU non-call.

“Up until this, there’s never been a question of who makes the call — it’s the replay supervisor,” Scott insisted. He said he interviewed Dixon and the replay supervisor, who said there had been no previous episode involving pressure or persuasion. “According to (Dixon),  it was a misinterpretation or miscommunication, where replay officials thought he was telling them to not put on targeting. The supervisors were inclined to put it in, but that wasn’t his intention.

“The fact that there was confusion indicates to me a problem.”

That certainly is true. Scott said procedures have been changed, presumably meaning that Dixon, whose job responsibilities include football operations, will no longer be a final arbiter.

Then again, one would presume that was always the case, as well as presuming that the policy was written down, and that the policy would have precluded someone calling in, perhaps from a loud bar, to decide an outcome.

Asked whether he was concerned or didn’t care about what he’s learned about the episode, Petersen ran away from the issue, wet-cat style.

“I got enough problems,” he said. “Hopefully they get that fixed. I’m sure they will.”

Petersen went on to explain the difficulties in administering and teaching the new rules on targeting. That’s all true, but beside the point. The point is that if player health and safety is paramount in the Pac-12, they can’t be having staffers from HR or IT or custodial or the legal department randomly calling up and saving USC some penalty yards.

One of Petersen’s pet phrases is how hard it is to win a game in the Pac-12. Suddenly, I have greater respect for its meaning, knowing the conference is operated occasionally out of the musty trunk of a 1953 Buick Bulgemobile.



  • Alan Harrison

    Larry Scott is adored by Pac-12 college presidents and abhored by Pac-12 college athletic directors, who really ought to be the ones dealing with him. On football, with the near-invisibility of the Pac-12 Network, the conference is now thought of as a big brother to the Mountain West rather than a peer with the SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, and ACC. The sport has become regional, concentrated in the South and the Midwest – NASCAR with cleats. On basketball, the conference is falling behind as well, Bill Walton’s cries of “Conference of Champions” notwithstanding. Shame, really. Not that I have strong opinions on Larry Scott, whom I’ve never met, but laud his work with World Team Tennis (sarcasm drips).

    • Husky73

      Bill Walton can describe a simple layup in 852 words.

      • art thiel

        More than 700 are words known to many.

    • art thiel

      P12 Nets is basically a 24/7 infomercial for the schools, not just sports, which the presidents like, given all the threats to brick-and-mortar institutions. But the crappy content is why DirecTV has told Scott to drop dead. The fault lies with the schools for wanting it both ways.

      I still believe strongly the big-time sports programs should be re-organized into separate for-profit corporations that rent the school’s facilities/brands/fan bases.

      • Alan Harrison

        I hadn’t heard that idea, but it’s totally sound. Instead of tax-deductible donations, the “investors” would receive dividends, and there would be no need for impact statements (except financial ones).

        • art thiel

          Welcome to my tiny bandwagon. You get it.

      • SalishSea8

        Don’t they already do? Especially in basketball.

  • Husky73

    Art…Three thoughts….1. I assumed the Pullman Gameday sign of “Our coach is weirder than your coach” would take top honors for this football season….until you described Oregon State as Division IV. 2. Speaking of the WSU non-conference schedule, could they be considered cupcakes? 3. Is there any truth to the rumor that Larry Scott will succeed Sarah Huckabee Sanders?

    • art thiel

      1. Weirder wins.
      2. Campaign underway to re-name the state Betty Crocker.
      3. Scott is weighing an offer to become commissioner of Saudi Arabia.

  • ll9956

    Thanks for a good article, Art. The non-call is a travesty. I find the explanations given by Scott and Dixon totally unsatisfying. Hopefully by now the proper protocol is written in unmistakably clear language and Dixon or any of his successors will never have any voice in these decisions ever.

    • art thiel

      Scott at least owned up to responsibility for designing the protocol. But it’s been a month and I haven’t seen the new protocols. We just get to take his word.

  • 1coolguy

    – WTF is DIXON??? A 5th grader from Ghana wouldn’t have missed that call! To think the replay staff sat there with their fingers up their asses is just as bad. We talk about the well-deserved moniker “Clowncil” in Seattle. Possibly you can coin one for this Ship of Fools, Art.
    – I watched the entire WSU – UO game and Minshew is the REAL DEAL. If the Dags had him as their QB, they would be undefeated. Minshew has “it” in spades.

    • Tian Biao

      Dag: a lock of wool matted with dung hanging from the hindquarters of a sheep.

      ps totally agree about Dixon. unbelievable the Pac 12: come on, folks, get it together.

      • art thiel

        Dag. Thanks. It’s a good day when I learn a useful word.

        • Estip

          And perhaps that explains the origin of the expression, “dagnabbit.” Or not.

    • art thiel

      Dixon could have lived a fine life of semi-obscurity. But now he gets to be the albatross around Scott’s neck.

      Remarkable that something like this would happen, and would happen to the one team whose coach already distrusts authority.

    • SalishSea8

      The play at that time was huge for the Cougs to come back. I already knew the fix has been in for the big money schools in the Pac 12. This is just more icing to put on the theory of that cake. Just think maybe it kept the game cleaner for WSU against Oregon because the facts were out.

  • 3 Lions

    It appears Larry Scott has lost institutional control. It’s time for a change.

    • art thiel

      Good line. May I steal it?

      • 3 Lions

        What’s mine is yours brother.

  • DJ

    Thanks Art!
    I now understand why a few replay reviews that I’ve seen for targeting in PAC-12 games netted the wrong call – The replay review isn’t for an actual football official to make a judgement, it’s to give the league politicians time to scramble to the politically correct verdict.

    • art thiel

      Your skepticism about officiating is among the worst things that can happen to a fan base, which is why Scott is flying around to tamp it down. Not working.

  • Tian Biao

    this column cracked me up multiple times. Art, you might have missed your calling: comedy! to make fun of wazzu is enjoyable enough, but to make the blundering Pac 12 funny? pure genius.

    • art thiel

      Many will suggest I adopt other lines of work too.

      • Archangelo Spumoni

        New lines o’ work? Nope. Please stand by and await that phone call with the offer to be the de facto Seahawks owner. I have it on good “information.”

        • Husky73

          Moved and seconded.

  • WestCoastBias79

    Pac 12 officiating has been a joke as long as I remember, in basketball and football, well before the arrival of Larry Scott. That said, he has done well in continuing this long and inglorious tradition. Add the meddling to a litany of other failures. There’s the hostile start times for ESPN while the teams being screwed are mocked by ESPN. There’s the scheduling that seems to make it harder for the elite teams not named USC to make the playoff (i.e. UW playing every team after their bye last year and playing Oregon in Eugene after their bye this year etc.–the SEC does not do that to their money teams). Adding Colorado/Utah has led to the wondrous tradition of a lopsided championship in a half empty stadium, and he put them both in the south which stacks the north and almost rolls out the red carpet for USC annually. There’s his low rent feeling Pac-12 network complete with promised revenue that didn’t materialize from it. How does this man still have a job?

    • art thiel

      Scott has made several dubious decisions and non-decisions. But the nature of ownership and content of P12 Nets was a collective decision by the presidents, who failed to understand how unattractive 90 percent of the content would be for an audience almost totally committed to football/men’s basketball.

      P12 is stuck with the deal for five more years, and will fall behind in revs a little more each year.