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September 20, 2009

The Cougar Lounge - Shifty Sands

"I told the team tonight in the locker room that we are the pre-season Pac-10 champs, if you look at the standings."

- Wazzu head volleyball coach Andrew Palileo, after his Cougars defeated Gonzaga last week and finished off the non-conference pre-season portion of the season as one of four undefeated Pac-10 schools.




"If you want to be the best in the world, you have to commit to that year-round and I fully respect his decision."

- Wazzu head football coach Paul Wulff after receiver Jeshua Anderson decided to focus on track and field - where he is the school record-holder, two-time defending NCAA champion and a Top 15 talent in the world in the men's 400-meter hurdles.




"Sports fans consume much more media than the average American does because they have to consume sports in the moment."

- ESPN senior vice president Artie Bulgrin, explaining how sports fans are different than other normal Americans and, therefore, why ESPN feels they must team together with the SEC and form a Gestapo unit to try and control all those moments of consumption.




"It was a mistake. There was never any intention of the city providing pornography as a service."

- A spokesman for the German city of Gelsenkirchen after that city mistakenly advertised pornography as one of the services it offers residents of the city.








It is difficult, sometimes, to understand the enigmatic nature of college athletics. Things that, by all the laws of human nature, are supposed to happen, at times, do not. Conversely, things that are not supposed to happen in a million years, sometimes, happen. That is where we find ourselves today, on the shifting sands of college athletics where supposed football powerhouse USC loses to supposed football weakling Washington, a supposed incompetent WSU football team suddenly becomes competent and pulls off a comeback win, supposed also-ran WSU volleyball team is one of four undefeated teams in the Pac-10 after the non-conference pre-season matches and supposed wealthy schools such as Texas, always win against poor schools such as WSU - except in soccer last week. So it went last week where the world was turned upside down and things happened that were not supposed to happen. Australia suddenly became Canada and kangaroos and koalas were drinking beer and playing hockey.


For Cougar fans and well-wishers, it was a particularly delightful week as - for the first time this year - they hit the trifecta. Every autumn sport won - the football team against SMU, the soccer team against Texas and Stephen F. Austin and the volleyball team earlier in the week against Gonzaga. For athletic director Jim Sterk, it was a welcome reprieve from the usual grousing of disgruntled postal worker-fans - a week of winning. Straight, no chaser - just winning. Of course, that is all the volleyball team has been doing in 2009 and mostly what the soccer team has already been doing but Sterk and school president Elson Floyd could not have had better timing for a football program win. Sterk and Floyd expected the program to be at least 2-1 after this week with wins over Hawai'i and SMU so they could then unleash their good news on Tuesday regarding the Martin Stadium renovation project. Things did not go exactly as planned but they did get one win and it came in dramatic fashion as the Cougars recovered from a 14-point fourth quarter deficit and went on to score 17 unanswered points to win in overtime and claim their first victory of 2009 that temporarily interrupted all the stream-of-consciousness hand wringing. Since this week's football opponent is USC in Los Angeles, that stream should begin its renewal later this week.

Sterk had sent a letter out to influential boosters last week, imploring them to stay positive about the football program and stadium renovation project despite the current lack of wins and cited facility upgrades as necessary improvements to keep the program on "a level field". Historical references - some questionable [preaching positive and then pointing out the number of individuals not offered scholarships by BCS schools is not exactly positive, especially for the individuals involved who chose Wazzu over other schools, whether they were BCS or not] - were offered and some were relevant and some were irrelevant as the situations under former coaches are radically different than those which face the current coaches in the current environment. No successful Wazzu football coach from the past has had to deal with a financial crisis as daunting as the one which currently faces Sterk, Wulff and their respective staffs. Even when venerable Babe Hollingbery was roaming the halls in the Depression Era, which has slight financial correlation, the majority of the school's - Washington State College, at the time - emphasis was academic. There was no big money from television contracts, no BCS Taliban [thankfully], not even a vast array of bowl games and, for that matter, not even a Pac-10 conference. Athletics, plain and simple, were a sidelight - something one did while earning his degree. Academic achievements were - and are still supposed to be - the primary reason one attends college or university.

In addition, no Wazzu football coach from the past has to deal with the changing technological environment to the degree that Sterk and Wulff and their staffs have had to deal with such advancements in high technology that have affected the way information is consumed, transferred and translated - specifically regarding their athletic programs. The internet was not in existence when Jim Walden enjoyed his stint of success in the 1980s and Mike Price enjoyed the bulk of his success during the internet's infancy, when he was already well-established in the coaching profession. There is a higher degree of fan and well-wisher involvement in the process than there was in the past and whether or not that is positive or negative, it is a fact which must be dealt with, probably in a positive way if one is to expect positive results. So when a football team from any school wins a game by coming back from a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter - this is to be viewed as a positive sign for the program. At least, according to human nature and logic.

If we wanted illogical behavior, we would not have to go very far. We could just throw a party in our Malibu party house like that gal from Wells Fargo did! Well, we would not keep our job very long, like she did not keep hers, but hey! - it was fun while it lasted, right? Now, she just has to wait until the next bandwagon arrives, it should not be long, the bandwagon schedule is unpredictable but there is always a new one showing up at the station for those who like to jump on them in the good times.

ESPN gets the new landscape that faces Sterk and Wulff. Unfortunately, ESPN also wants to go all Hitler on us and control everything, but they do get it. ESPN has rolled out new local versions of their brand in Boston, Chicago and Dallas and will launch similar efforts in New York and Los Angeles in the near future. This is one of the new niches where athletic departments will have to live and interact with their fans and well-wishers in order to ensure the success of their programs. The schools which both positively embrace and seamlessly manage - with integrity, a major factor that has eluded many so far - this niche will be successful in the future. The schools which drag their feet and cling stubbornly to outdated notions will fall further behind. Sort of like the world is falling behind the West Coast in soy sauce purchasing. The top six locations for purchasing soy sauce in the country - according to Lounge's marketing research monkeys - are in California, Oregon and Washington - and nine of the Top 10 are west of the Mississippi. That is as good a reason to open a Chinese restaurant in those states as we can think of at the moment. But the best news of the week comes from our pal Rupert Murdoch, internationally-recognized crazy person and owner of sports broadcasting network, Fox Sports, has announced he is unlikely to seek to bid on the upcoming 2014 and 2016 Olympics. The Lounge joins the entire United States of America as well as the rest of the world in issuing a gigantic sigh followed by a gigantic - woo-hoo!!! The reason, naturally, is that he is old and greedy and he cannot make enough of a killing on the Olympics to support his greedy lifestyle. Never mind the celebration of the world spirit in athletics and the genuine competition between the world's best athletes in a variety of sports - Murdoch cannot make any moolah off of it so, for that reason, he does not want to be a part of it - and the world and Olympics will be much better without him in 2014 and 2016. But we will wait until it becomes official before we break out the piñatas and party streamers.

"That is more like it!" yells Roger Wilco about the Cougars' first football game win of the year in dramatic fashion over SMU.

It will not go down in the annals of college football as the prettiest game of college football ever played - as a game featuring eight turnovers between the two teams should never be - but it is a win for the Wazzu football program and a win they desperately needed at this time in both the season and development of their program. If the Cougars had been unable to pull out this win, there existed the every real possibility of going winless through the entire 2009 season. With that possibility kicked out of the door on the toe of Nico Grasu and his 39-yard game-winning field goal, the Cougars can now concentrate on improving enough over the season to grab another win or two or more along the way in the Pac-10 schedule. It may seem an absurd thought but so, probably, to most Cougar fans and well-wishers, did a 17-unanswered point comeback win. The key now will not be whether they can win the next game - they cannot, since it is against USC and they will be in no mood to be pacifists this year - but rather, can they improve enough over the course of the season to grab the improvements and victories where they can? Merely scoring against USC will be a continuation of that theme.

"So, as I understand it, Wazzu could have two teams in NCAA tournaments in November?" asks Night Al with that quizzical look on his face.


Absolutely, Al. In fact, we would be extremely surprised if the Wazzu soccer team was not in their second consecutive NCAA tournament. The Cougars crushed Texas last week and will undoubtedly move closer to the Top 25 when the national poll rankings come out later in the week. But whether or not they are actually in the Top 25, the consensus of the Lounge clientele is that they will have another successful run through the Pac-10 conference and possibly get as high as second in the final standings and perhaps play again in Portland. The volleyball team is currently undefeated and receiving votes in the national poll but they will need to get at least seven or eight wins in conference play to put themselves in a favorable position to receive an NCAA berth with the Pac-10 being the strongest volleyball conference in the land. Their chances could be more tenuous, but it could depend on how they begin the season this week and next week with three winnable contests out of their first four conference matches.

The Lounge is always concerned about how we can play a role in eliminating evil in the world and so, at first, we were drawn toward Evil Auntie's Quick And Sexy Cooking so see what type of epicurial evil was lurking behind the cutlery and we were both relieved and disappointed. First, we were relieved because there is nothing inherently evil about this auntie - or, at least the actress portraying the evil auntie. The Chocolate Fudge recipe was, we figured, a good test case since many people claim that chocolate fudge is evil. Yet we saw nothing evil in either Evil Auntie's recipe nor preparation. Now, some people may nitpick and say that the "secret" ingredient of Canadian Whiskey is evil. That, naturally, would not be the perspective of the Lounge and, in fact, where auntie suggest mixing the sugar and whiskey together before adding it to the fudge, we would suggest drinking some whiskey first and then adding whatever you had left over to the sugar before mixing it in with the fudge. But that is just our way of fighting evil in the world.

The Lounge Scientists have some good news for the Cougar football team and the possibility that they can be a much better team in the future. It seems scientists in China discovered a miniature version of the famously vicious dinosaur Tyrannosaurus Rex. What is intriguing about the discovery is that it now seems to mean that the larger version of T. Rex likely evolved from the smaller version - just like a Cougar football team can eventually evolve into a much better version in the future.

"The thought was these signature Tyrannosaur features evolved as a consequence of large body size. They needed to modify their entire skeleton so they could function as a predator at such colossal size," says Lounge Scientist #9, Stephen Brusatte, a scientist at the American Museum of Natural History, who reputedly has also evolved from a smaller version of himself.

Now we must wait to see what evolution has in store for the Wazzu football team in the 2009 season.




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