The Washington Huskies list 20 offensive linemen on their roster. None can play football right now.
“Our offensive line is gone,” said Jimmy Lake, the head coach.
So the show can’t go on. USC will play Oregon, not Washington, for the Pac-12 championship on Friday night at the Coliseum.
The trophy does not depict Moe sticking a thumb in Larry’s eye, or John Cleese returning a dead parrot to Michael Palin’s store, and it shouldn’t.
Farce is funny. The Pac-12’s decision-making, and its football, are merely grotesque.
Oregon lost to Oregon State and Cal and is 3-2, compared to Colorado’s 4-1. But Oregon is in the Pac-12 North and will play the Trojans, the South winner.
Colorado is in the South and lost at home to Utah on Saturday, but USC didn’t play Colorado or, really, anybody in the Pac-12 with a consistent pulse. Washington and Oregon were supposed to play last Saturday and could not.
Unlike Winston Churchill’s characterization of the USA, the Pac-12 couldn’t even do the right thing when all other possibilities were exhausted.
It announced a Sept. 26 start date, without nonconference games, but then called a halt, as did the Big Ten. Meanwhile, the other conferences actually mowed their fields and began playing in September.
Under pressure from parents and the networks, the Big Ten doubled back and said it would attempt to squeeze a season into the final two-and-a-half months of 2020.
The Pac-12, like lemmings perched next to the sea, said, “Ditto,” and started on the first Saturday of November.
So no one in the Pac-12 has played more than six games. Texas State and Georgia Southern played 12. Five Big 12 teams have played 10 times, as have six SEC teams. Eleven ACC teams have played 11 games.
“Now that we look back at it,” Lake said, “if the schedule had started on Sept. 26, maybe we would have had more wiggle room to replay games, make up games. We could have re-done our Cal game, played the Apple Cup (vs. Washington State), re-played the Oregon game, and then you’d have a better picture of the team that could have played the South champion.
“But this virus is wicked. It doesn’t cherry-pick. We’re just following the rules awaiting us. The players were crushed when they couldn’t play last week. They are devastated now.”
But the wiggle room is still there. There is no constitutional provision that requires a Pac-12 title game this weekend. It could be moved back a week or even two. It won’t interfere with the College Football Playoff because the Pac-12 hardly ever interferes with the College Football Playoff. Instead, college football has exhausted its desire to remain flexible.
The only good thing about the Pac-12 is that it’s not the Big Ten, which had a minimum-games provision that it hastily tabled when it appeared Ohio State would be ineligible.
The theory was that everyone knows Ohio State has the best team in the conference, which is true, just as we all knew Auburn wouldn’t take a missed field-goal attempt into Alabama’s end zone, once upon a time.
This is not about the audacious decision to move heaven and earth to stage a football skit instead of a season when the real students can’t be on campus, when restaurant owners and theater owners and musicians and playwrights and hair stylists can’t go to work, when so many Americans stare at empty mailboxes where a relief check should be.
College football players can be tested for COVID-19 when others can’t. They enjoy on-demand recuperative measures when hospitals are overflowing. They couldn’t get the courts to treat them like essential workers, but now they are. No need for fans in the seats, but filling up the TV windows is imperative.
But if football players aren’t going to play, why do they spend dark mornings in the weight room or late nights in the video room? Why are most of them enrolled at all?
“I think this was worth it,” Lake said. “I wouldn’t take back any of the four games. Our comeback win over Utah, we’ll always remember that.”
Finishing a full season in pandemic times is not like building the Panama Canal. Every sport but college basketball and Major League Baseball has done it. The NFL just rolls right along, and if Denver doesn’t have a presentable quarterback on a particular Sunday, that’s tough. Eventually, it’s up to the testers and the athletes to keep it antiseptic.
Lake deserves credit for not dragging this out or pretending a Friday game was possible. But make no mistake: The Huskies caught a pie in the face on Monday. Their conference should leave the improv to those who are funny on purpose.