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Blanchette: It’s a mess now, but Pac-12 unity movement is right thing at right time

UPDATED: Sun., Aug. 2, 2020

By John Blanchette For The Spokesman-Review

This is going to end well. Really.

It could be extremely messy in the short term, this insurrection that’s been cooked up by a loose coalition of football players across the Pac-12 and launched Sunday with demands – not suggestions – in a dramatic post on the Players Tribune website.

It’s already become messy for Nick Rolovich, whose fun “players’ coach” honeymoon at Washington State seems to have hit an unexpected wall, if not imploded.

The many nuggets of goodwill he mined in his first few months on the job will be ground down as fine as the sand in Mike Leach’s old punishment pit unless Rolovich quickly goes public with a clarification/re-evaluation/mea culpa.

But whatever splintering it may cause in locker rooms in Pullman and beyond, and however it may muddle the 2020 Pac-12 football season that’s still in good part wish-upon-a-star, the #WeAreUnited movement – if a movement it truly is – is the right thing. And at the right time, regardless of the season teetering on the brink.

For all reckless spending on coaching salaries and nest-feathering NCAA member schools have engaged in and the foot-dragging as decades of howls for meaningful reform marched by, it’s only fitting the Pac-12, at least, has to face it now when colleges need their football players for financial survival more than the players need the game.

Regardless of how many of those player demands are met before the first scheduled kickoff.

Several should get done quickly. The COVID-19-related safety issues and the racial injustice points are such no-brainers that it’s to the colleges’ shame if any aren’t in place already. Likewise, stripping as many restrictions as possible from any NCAA-backed proposals on name, image and likeness rights rings true, as do the wants on six-year scholarships, one free transfer and extended medical coverage.

The revenue split and slashing Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott’s salary weren’t as well thought out, though hearts were in the right place.

No, little of it will sit well with the but-they-get-free-tuition-and-food barstool jockeys. But consider one voice of reason from among the purported militants.

“We were hoping by fall camp this stuff can kind of be sorted out,” WSU defensive lineman Dallas Hobbs told ESPN. “The main thing is, the COVID concern isn’t something we want to be negotiated. The other stuff is definitely a lot to handle, and it’s definitely going to take some time to negotiate. But we kind of want this process to just start and see the Pac-12 take leadership and enforce some of these standards… .

“We are all grateful for what we have. But there is so much more that would create generational change.”

In other words, there should be room to talk.

Except some of the talk at WSU didn’t seem all that promising.

Cougar defenders Lamonte McDougle and Skyler Thomas got into a bit of back-and-forth on Twitter after Thomas wrote, “If there’s games, I’m playing.” It wasn’t all so terrible, and it’s not like the revolutionaries could have expected unanimity. But if an actual boycott gains any momentum – and, really, that’s a long shot – there will be locker room divisions and hard feelings over the potential of opportunities lost, and patching up festering sores is a hard way to run a football team.

And it didn’t sound as if Rolovich made it easier on himself.

Sophomore wide receiver Kassidy Woods called his coach with the news that he was going to opt out of the season, concerned that his particular medical condition – he has sickle cell trait – could be compromised by exposure to the coronavirus. Pac-12 schools are already honoring such requests, with no scholarship jeopardy; WSU is handling Woods’ request no differently.

But Woods’ father, John, told The Spokesman-Review’s Theo Lawson that Rolovich then told Kassidy Woods that if he was part of the Pac-12 players’ unity movement, his status beyond this year could be in question.

“Then he told him Monday to clean out his locker,” John Woods said.

Did Leach leave instructions for the new guy in the desk drawer or something?

Now, if you opt out of the season, it’s not unreasonable to be excluded from team activities, too – and, yes, maybe even to have to clean out your locker.

But an old union-busting tactic like warning that associating with a group pressing for institutional change and racial justice might send you down the road is the worst of looks. Is strong-arming a player for speaking out on something completely reasonable really going to help your program, or is it going to undermine you even with those players whose hearts aren’t with the unity movement – and give recruiting rivals more ammunition? Because it’s the kind of thing that gets around.

It’s the kind of thing, actually, that seems of the mentality the players’ unity movement has decided to confront, with hopes of change.

Change that should bring this whole episode to a happy conclusion. Despite any mess.

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