Mailbag: Should WSU divert resources away from football?

With conference affiliation potentially up in the air, one reader wonders if the Cougs should push their chips in with other sports.

Good morning! Welcome to the first edition of our mailbag that is exclusively for subscribers. I appreciate you — this kind of interaction is what makes this fun. If you know someone who doesn’t yet subscribe but would be interested in this, please feel free to forward this to them, and encourage them to subscribe.

Side note: If you have your own thoughts on any of these topics …

On to your questions!

My question is this: I've been having many dark thoughts about realignment, but the crazy OMG YESS!! championship with the women's basketball team has me thinking: Would it make more sense for French Ad and the athletic directors to pull money from football in order to better support our programs that are terrific, like women's basketball, soccer and volleyball, and baseball and men’s basketball? It just seems like realignment is going to kick us in the recruiting teeth, so maybe spending our few copper pennies in other sports makes sense?

I know such a proposal would go over like a lead balloon with die-hard alums, but, realistically, is there an alternative? Can Cougar football ever be Pac (whatever) champions again under this new system, and if not, why pour money into a rigged game?

William B.

So, I can appreciate the thought process that went into this question — the anxiety associated with WSU’s place in the Power 5 pecking order is real, and it’s not too much of a leap to look at all of this and wonder if the school might not be better off tapping out of the arms race to some of degree.

That said, as long as the Cougars have a football team, it’s in the best interest of all of those sports you mentioned for WSU to be as good at football as it can possibly be.

There is example after example after example of success in football breeding success for more minor sports at schools all over the country. Nearby, you can see it in the transformation of a pair of schools: Oregon and Boise State.

I’m old enough — as I’m sure many of you are — to remember when the Ducks were also-rans in most sports, including football. Phil Knight put his money into football, football got real good, and everything else elevated. I know the temptation is to hand-wave the Nike money, but let’s be clear: The success of the football team induced large-scale donations from folks without the Knight surname.

Meanwhile, in Boise, Leon Rice has built a program in men’s basketball that he felt was better than leaving for WSU. Given that they’re about to make back-to-back tournaments, it’s hard to argue with him. Obviously Rice has more to do with that than the football team, but the football team is largely responsible for the elevation of the athletic department as a whole.

And this doesn’t even get into the effect that football has on university enrollment.

I understand feeling like the game is rigged and that we can’t possibly keep up. But hasn’t it always been that way for us? And we’ve figured out ways to stay relevant. I think that as long as we stay in a major conference, that will continue to be the case. But even if the whole system blows up and we end up in some kind of half step between the Pac-12 and MWC, the best thing for all those other sports is for football to still be as good as possible.

What have you seen from Adrame this season that gives you encouragement for the future?What does your gut tell you are the odds of Mo's return?What sort of roster turnover do you anticipate?  Could you see Carlos Rosario (a former 4-star dude!) going elsewhere for more play time? What about Kymany?  (All these guys' first names are easier to spell than their last names.  Ha!)Give me your anticipated starting 5 next year if Mo departs for the NBA.  (I'll go with Dishon, Rice, Bamba, Powell, and Jaki (at the 4) with DJ and Mullins coming off the bench.)

Jonathan S.

Rapid-fire questions? Rapid-fire answers!

  • Adrame Diongue is a potentially dominant defender — his length and feel for rim protection are superior, and he could be the key to returning WSU to the defense we got used to the last couple of years. Will he be thick enough? Can he play enough minutes? Those are the big questions.

  • I’m going to go with 55% that Mouhamed Gueye returns. I think he only leaves for the NBA, not for another school.

  • I actually think the roster is going to emerge relatively unscathed from this offseason. As it stands right now, WSU is one player over the scholarship limit. Rosario would seem to be a prime candidate to move on, but we also don’t yet know what’s up with Dishon Jackson and Myles Rice. Still, I’m going to predict that the rotation will return intact with Mo as the wild card. Kymany Houinsou seems to like it in Pullman.

  • I think it’s the same with Jackson in place of Mo.

Ian Furness a couple weeks ago vaguely tweeted about Bruce Pearl contacting our basketball players (inferring something against the rules). He didn't elaborate on the tweet. Any idea what he is referring to? Thanks

Kyle O.

So, here’s the tweet in question for those of you (like me) who didn’t see it.

First off, I haven’t heard anything like this, and nobody else has reported anything like this. Furness — a sports radio host in Seattle — purports to be well connected and will occasionally throw stuff like this out on Twitter without any reporting to back it up.

If I had heard something like this, I certainly wouldn’t be tweeting it without reporting it out, but the standards for sports radio are a little different than mine.

I will say this: “Tampering,” as it were, is now common. It’s just part of the deal. Even if it did happen, I certainly am not going to get overly worked up about it.

WSU students doing the Jaws chomp. That's weird, right? Am I the only one who thinks this? I've thought it since I first arrived on campus and started going to games. I keep thinking it will have died out, but I saw it on the broadcast just the other day. It lives. People must like it? I obviously understand that Cougars have jaws, but c'mon.

Leif J.

So, I don’t know what year you graduated, but this thing does have an origin story! It started in 1992, supposedly with linebacker Anthony McClanahan using it as a celebration.

It’s definitely one of those puzzling things that somehow stuck. Maybe it’s weird? I dunno. Traditions are sometimes weird. But it’s our tradition!

I'm still confused about the transition to Substack I've seen here and over at Sounder at Heart. I understand transitioning the podcasts if you've lost financial backing, but why provide additional content here and not on CougCenter? Is there a potential for SB Nation to pull the plug on sports websites as well? It kind of seems like you're pulling views and content from CougCenter thus hurting Emma's efforts which is where my confusion lies. Happy to follow wherever you all end up either way. Thanks!

Keith L.

I saved this one for last because if you’ve read this far, maybe you’re interested in this sort of “inside baseball” kind of stuff.

Yes, the main reason for the Substack is to be a home for our podcast, which was necessary after SB Nation shut down its entire podcast operation in January. And since we want to keep growing the podcast, it seemed like a “value add” proposition for subscribers to also provide them some written content alongside the show.

Does that take away from CougCenter? I guess it depends on how you look at it. In the strictest sense, yeah — the page views and engagement from the things I write that would have gone there are now going here. I don’t think that’s “hurting” CougCenter, per se, because I don’t think this is a zero sum game. There’s no reason why CougCenter can’t fill the void left by me and continue to grow under Emma’s very capable leadership. In theory, both things can thrive, and I continue to support their efforts behind the scenes in ways that aren’t public.

As you suspected, though, there’s a little more to this Substack than just adding value to the podcast.

SB Nation is changing, which you alluded to. As someone who got in near the ground floor in 2008, I can tell you that it’s not at all what it once was; it’s been clear for some time that Vox Media (SB Nation’s parent company) no longer sees much value in its sports property.

After a decade of investing in the growth of SB Nation — both the team sites and SBNation.com — Vox scaled way, way back in 2019 and 2020, paying a lot of people to go away. While layoffs are part of a normal cycle of a business, you don’t let go of Spencer Hall and a slew of other incredibly talented full-time staffers if you’re trying to build something. (Can you imagine paying Spencer to not work for you anymore? Couldn’t be me.)

The pandemic hit shortly after that, and the team sites just sort of floated along. Budgets to pay CougCenter staff remained intact, but there was little communication or direction from SB Nation. Even as we emerged from the pandemic and sports resumed, that never really changed. Where once there was a close relationship with the SB Nation leadership and clear strategies for growing our sites and the network, there now was mostly silence. Some team site managers prefer to be left alone, which I understand, but also … if we’re not trying to build something, what are we all doing here?

It now seems likely that Vox is slowly closing down SB Nation altogether. In the last seven months, there have been two rounds of cuts where team sites have been shuttered — about 20 college sites got the axe in August, and then the vast majority of the NHL and MLS network was shut down in January, along with the podcast network.1 

I thought long and hard in September about what I wanted to do if CougCenter also got the axe, and ultimately I decided that I didn’t want to try and recreate the operation somewhere else. Beyond the changes at SB Nation, the site itself had undergone a significant evolution. The core staff got older, the demands on our time changed thanks to marriages, kids, and jobs, and many people ultimately decided to scale back their contributions to the site. Very normal stuff!

That took a toll on me, personally, though. Where CougCenter once was pulling me in all sorts of exciting directions, I felt like I was now dragging CougCenter somewhere it didn’t want to go in order to continue to try and be what it was. In the wake of the pandemic, the site wasn’t growing, content was stagnant and predictable, and community engagement was down. All the stuff that made the website fun in its heyday had regressed considerably, and I didn’t see a clear path forward to recapture that. Where leading such a large operation had once been a joy, it now felt like a burden, and when you’re talking about the dozens of hours a month required to do it right — hours that I could spend sleeping, or hanging out with my kids, or working on my house, etc. — it better be real fun.

Burned out, I decided to step back and hand the operation to someone else. I said publicly that it was for a “break,” but I knew it was highly unlikely I would ever lead the site again. A weird thing about me is that I’m not real good with half measures — I tend to be all-in or all-out on things.

That said, when I stepped down at the beginning of December, I did intend to keep writing stuff at CougCenter. I knew I’d be taking some time off from writing — December is a real busy time for me with wrapping up school before break and the holidays, plus this year we took a big vacation — but I fully planned to jump back in after that as basketball season got into full swing. But after the blood letting? It was real, real hard to get motivated to spend a bunch of hours writing something meaningful that would drive a bunch of page views that would let Vox collect their advertising dollars while concurrently not giving a shit about what happens to us.

Thus, the Substack. For the first time in a very long time, I’m writing just for me, and that feels a lot better than I imagined it would — I write what I want, when I want, for a bunch of people who I know like what I do. It’s been validating to see the subscriber numbers and open rates on emails. And it’s without the pressure to try and be everything to everyone. For now, I’m happy with the newsletter just being that.

It might be more someday. Some of you have already pledged to pay for a subscription, which is humbling. Knowing myself the way I do, I’m probably going to have the urge to try and scale up. I mean, clearly I’m already trying to see how many subscribers I can collect, right? I can’t help it — I like to make stuff. It’s exciting. But I also know what it means to promise something in exchange for money, and I know what it does to me when I have that responsibility. I’m not yet ready to make the leap into that kind of commitment again, because when I do, I’m all-in.

I’m hopeful that CougCenter can recapture some of its magic under Emma, even as I remain skeptical of Vox’s commitment to SB Nation.

Thanks for reading, and GFC.

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