Sonny Dykes has an issue with scheduling, particularly the slate his Cal Golden Bears have faced. But his laments are not a problem exclusive just to his program, or the Pac-12 in general.
Cal went into Thursday night’s loss at USC on six days’ rest according to the calendar. However, given the Golden Bears’ double-overtime win over Oregon ended past midnight Pacific Daylight Time Saturday morning, the turnaround technically became five days.
“We’ve had to do a lot of things differently with the six-day week, just with leaving in the middle of the week,” he said when I asked him about the quick turnaround on Tuesday. “We have kids taking midterm exams. So, trying to balance when we have the time to practice, when guys are trying to take midterms, there’s really not any good answers.
“We don’t normally practice on Mondays,” he continued. “We typically give our kids Mondays off [for] an academic day off. This week, we had to, and Sunday as well…So the schedule’s been just a disaster. It’s been a mess.”
Thursday from the Coliseum, his attitude hadn’t softened. Sonny Dykes added more descriptors to summarize his thoughts on Cal’s scheduling, calling it a “travesty.”
“We looked like a tired, beat-up football team — and we were,” he said. “Again I’m going to say it, I said ti last week: It’s a travesty for whoever scheduled us in back-to-back, weekday football games, on six days’ rest, to play on the road at night against a team coming off an open date. I hope the Pac-12 doesn’t do it again to any other school.”
“I don’t think it’s right for the kids,” he added. “It’s not been good for our players, who’ve had to miss a bunch of class. They talk about student-athlete welfare; they didn’t put their money where their mouth is, that’s for sure.”
One of Cal’s student-athletes, quarterback Davis Webb, offered the standard dismissal.
“That’s for you guys to write about,” he said of the scheduling concerns. “I think Coach Dykes and [offensive coordinator Jake Spavital] did a great job. I don’t think as players we did a great job of getting ourselves ready.
Webb downplayed the schedule’s impact on Cal’s play, as one would expect of a quarterback. But that doesn’t diminish nor disprove Sonny Dykes’ complaints in the big picture.
If anything, commissioner Larry Scott’s comments before Thursday’s game only lend credence to Dykes’ argument.
“We haven’t done anything in this case that’s not within an agreed parameter with all of our schools,” Scott said this week, per the Los Angeles Times, adding TV scheduling left the conference with “not a lot of flexibility.”
It is true that the schools agree to the parameters. However, Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News reported Friday:
important pt on Pac12 sked: presented to schools 4 vote, Cal AD Williams approved "to respect the will of the majority of our conference"
— Jon Wilner (@wilnerhotline) October 28, 2016
Moreover, by Scott’s admission, academics are not among the parameters considered — hence Cal playing back-to-back late, weekday games during midterms.
Whether H. Michael Williams, Sonny Dykes, or any of the other 11 athletic directors and 11 head coaches around the Pac-12, there’s little recourse against the will of the television networks.
Dykes criticized weeknight games earlier in the season outside of the prism of Cal’s schedule, saying the Pac-12 was a prominent enough conference to not need the exposure. The concept of midweek football was born to give non-traditional programs a national stage — well, and to give ESPN inventory at a time when the cable network was burgeoning.
Now, weeknight football exists solely for TV inventory.
It certainly isn’t for the sake of the game. Weeknight games played on short rest impact football players at the game’s highest level, evident each and every Thursday when the NFL rolls out a clunker for an increasingly less enthusiastic national audience.
The sport’s reached a crossroads with television. The Big 12 is on its deathbed as a result of TV intervention, students’ midterm exams are impacted, and the very quality of the product is at stake.