Cliff Pfenning's blog

Pilots score big with hoop hire

Tue, 03/23/2021 - 1:15pm
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When the University of Portland announced its hire for men's basketball coach Monday night, it didn't take long to figure out they pretty much - in hoop terms - drained a Damian Lillard-esque 3-pointer from 40 feet with Shantay Legans.

Legans comes to Portland after four years as head coach at Eastern Washington, and of significant note - after taking the Eagles to the NCAA Tournament and a knockdown, dragout battle with Kansas Saturday, a 93-84 loss.

In his four seasons as head coach, Legans was 75-49, won the Big Sky Conference regular-season title twice and the tournament this season to reach the Big Dance. Legans was at the school eight years prior, so he's been in Cheney, Wash., the past 12 years. Taking the Portland job seems like a great career move, even if there's plenty of reason so think it isn't.

The bright side for Legans is that he's 39, and even modest success with the Pilots might make him an attractive hire for a mid-major conference school such as Dayton. The West Coast Conference could be considered a mid-major conference, but rarely does it put two teams into the NCAA Tournament even if its top team, Gonzaga, is among the best in the nation. And, success at Portland is going to be easy to judge because the program is so far removed from ninth in the 10-team league. In his five years at Portland, head coach Terry Porter led the school only as high as ninth one time. When the school finally let him go in February, the Pilots had just been beat the night before 105-60 in large part due to being outrebounded 46-12.

Success at the University of Portland will be easy to guage.

Success at the University of Portland is not going to be easy to create. The school hasn't been to the NCAAs since 1996, and that's going to be a hard task with Gonzaga on top and Brigham Young right behind it. The Pilots have had some success, even as recently as 2015 when they reached the Tournament for the fourth time in seven seasons. But all those appearances were one-and-done and led the team finished as high as third only twice in coach Eric Reveno's 10 seasons. The school wanted more from its program and fired Reveno, who has become a significant factor in recruiting at Georgia Tech.

Porter had the name and local buzz from his Trail Blazers career, but never had the skills as a recruiter, and he simply did not seem to exist on social media or any media in a way that coaches need to exist these days. Porter was 43-103 in his days at Portland. The Pilots won just five conference games under Porter.

Legans' ability to wipe the program clean from Porter's failures will be key to his success, but that's what a new coach can do. And he's got the Rose City to sell to prospective recruits, including those looking to transfer and wanting an up-close glimpse of Damian Lillard. Coming off a tournament run is a big deal in that cleansing process.

Portland seems like it made a great hire in Legans, which also brings up if Legans is successful in Portland as he was at Eastern Washington, how long will he be in Portland?




Dame got stiffed by fans

Fri, 02/19/2021 - 8:34am
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Social media lit up around the Portland Trail Blazers Thursday when the NBA exposed its line-up for the upcoming All-Star Game ... and Damian Lillard was not a starter for the Western Conference.

Lillard, Dame to the league's fans, got stiffed. Turns out it was by the NBA's fans, who picked Lebron James, Steph Curry and Luka Doncic as the starting guard trio, even though players and the league's media picked Lillard for the third spot.

Dame got stiffed for that third spot.

But, really, who cares as the big prize is on the court after the All-Star Game, which is set to be played between the end of the pandemic-shoertened regular season and the unshortened playoffs on March 7 in Atlanta.

Would have been nice, really nice, for Damian to get into an All-Star starting role for the first time in his nine-year career.

This season is his most deserving as he's averaging nearly 30 points, four rebounds and eight assists per game to lead the Blazers to fourth place in the West, regularly closing out games with the decisive shot. And those decisive shots have been highlight worthy night after night for viewers on ESPN and the web.

But, Doncic, in his third year with Dallad, is hot right now, and even a bit outspoken about his team's motivation to win as the Mavericks struggle to reach .500 and a spot in the playoffs.

That's the real judge of the season for Dame, and he is an All-Star for the sixth time, so at least the league respects him. His fellow players and those who cover the league voted him to a starting role, but fan votes carry more weight. As do the playoffs, and fan voting has nothing to do with those games.

Portland is lined up for a first-round battle against Phoenix currently, although that's entirely volatile with seventh place and a meeting with the Lakers only 1.5 games away with seven games left on the schedule. Four of those games are against current West playoff teams.

The Blazers play at Phoenix on Monday, then at the Lakers next Friday.



OSU deserves a lot of applause

Sat, 11/28/2020 - 1:41pm
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What we learned from UO vs. OSU non-Civil War Game

What a win for Oregon State, beating the Ducks 41-38 with a last-minute touchdown splurge. 

What a loss for Oregon, getting outscored 22-7 in the fourth quarter of a game Las Vegas thought it would win by two touchdowns.

It’s the Covid-19 season for everything, so many people will just think it’ll mean less. It’s 2020, blah. But, there is so much more than just a blah win/loss from the former Civil War game played in Corvallis Friday.

It really is a great win for the Beavers, as is any win over Oregon in any sport, but especially in this season where they could easily be 4-0. At 2-2, they’ve got bowl potential, and the Beavs haven’t been to a bowl since 2013. OSU just needs to beat Utah or Stanford in the next two weeks, and it’s bowl worthy. Call it the Covid Bowl, whatever, it’s still a bowl.

It’s something of a usual loss for the Ducks, who are still lined up to play in the Pac-12 Championship game with wins over Cal and Washington in the next two weeks. The Ducks lose a key game virtually every year, including to ASU two weeks before the conference title game last year, so a loss during the regular season isn’t a big surprise. Maybe it’s helpful for fans of this season to move past the College Football Playoffs.

Here’s the fallout as I see it from Friday’s game.

1. Jonathan Smith is absolutely the right coach for Oregon State

Smith signed on for five years in 2017, but then got an extension in January through 2026, so that puts him in Corvallis for a while. For a program that hadn’t done much since the Mike Riley years, he’s got the Beavers moving in the right direction, which might be the conference championship game in coming years. It’s great to see a team playing above itself, and that’s what OSU seemed to do for much of the game Friday.  Junior Tristan Gebbia guided the offense played well enough to win, and the defense kept the game in line for a win by doing just enough to contain the Ducks, especially in the fourth quarter. A key interception in the fog definitely helped that cause.

2. Jermar Jefferson is headed to the NFL

Jefferson, another junior, has three runs longer than 70 yards in the last two games, and finished with 229 Friday. The 82-yard sprint on his first carry was probably the biggest play of the game in that it matched Oregon’s long touchdown drive that opened the contest. As big a stat as the 229 yards is, though, is the number of carries he got in the game - 29. What college team gives its feature back 29 carries these days? The team had plenty of opportunities for other guys to run as it finished with 44. Six of them were by Gebbia, who got a pair of key first downs on fourth-downs. Jefferson is only 5-10, but he showed off great instincts to get through a line, and has increased his season total of yards to 675 in four games and 91 carries, which is almost the total he had last year (685) on 142 carries, a year after he ran for 1,380 yards. His running brings back the visions of another OSU great - Ken Simonton, who was just 5-7 but finished with 5,044 yards in four seasons.

3. Oregon can’t run the ball or won’t run the ball

Can anyone remember the last great Oregon running back? Someone who was a feature back game after game? Oregon has had plenty of backs get to the NFL and two who finished with more than 5,000 career yards - Royce Freeman (2014-17), and LaMichael James (09-11). But, those were bygone days. The Ducks throw too much for that to happen now, which is always going to be a problem for them handling the clock when they need. Friday’s game finished with a respectable 186 yards on 34 carries, but Oregon simply would not run the ball three successive times for a first down. In the fog that hit Friday, it was baffling to see so many long passes downfield considering the receivers often didn’t see to know where the ball was. To be a College Football Playoff team, and winner, Oregon needs to be able to run the ball better.

4. Mario Cristobal deserves an Al Pacino/Jack Nickolson/Kevin Costner/Sam Elliott-level pep talk

Oregon does not seem very inspired on the field. The Ducks are good, yes, and they can score and make a tackle or two, yes. But when the game gets serious and there’s a play that needs to be made, it’s just kinda part of the flow and if it happens, it does, and if it doesn’t, well, then it doesn’t. 

I see four movies the Ducks coaches and players should view and get some meaning out of: Scarface, A Few Good Men, Bull Durham, and the Big Lebowski. 

At some point, the defense needs to be able to stop any opponent on any play - if the team is College Football Playoff worthy. That seems to be the thing for every UO season - get to the Big 4. But, Oregon just finds a way to be just-enough better than most teams, and then, damn that one play almost-good-enough for the key loss. And, the offense is so tricky, and indecisive. When the fog hit, the plays should have been closer to the vest as in short passes and lots of runs, but there were still plenty of longer passes, including one that turned into an interception in the fourth quarter.

Cristobal is in his third years as Oregon coach and has turned the program into one of the prime destinations for recruits in the nation. So why isn’t Oregon as good as Clemson? There’s something missing and Cristobal is the guy to overcome what that is. Or, he isn’t.

5. The Pac-12 just isn’t that good, so stop whining

When the CFP rankings came out and the Ducks were at 15, it seemed like a bit of a snub from the folks putting them together. But, it seems pretty much spot on, so fans should just refocus on the conference title. Oregon is still lined up for that. The bigger issue is next season and getting all the younger players that seasoning they need for a run at something really big, which includes a game at Ohio State. The 2021 season also includes a game against the FCS Stony Brook Seawolves which is on par with Clemson in that the Tigers always play a FCS team, too. 

Pac-12 Playoff snub is ... no big deal, yet

Tue, 11/24/2020 - 10:02pm
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The College Football Playoffs initial rankings hit the world Tuesday, and the No. 9 Oregon Ducks (AP Media Poll) were only No. 15 to the big guns getting ready to make the four-team call in just a few weeks.

Oregon, 3-0, got a fairly dismal ranking likely mimicking the sentiment of a lot of its own fans following the 38-35 win over UCLA Saturday - maybe the Ducks aren't that good. And, they were just three spots ahead of USC (3-0) at No. 18, having moved up from 19 in the AP Poll.

Only BYU really got snubbed more in the first rankings, dropping from No. 8 to No. 14 despite having a 9-0 record.

The CFP rankings feature three teams with two losses ranked ahead of the Ducks (and Cougars), according to the selection team of mostly athletic directors.

Only four teams will qualify for the playoffs, which Oregon did following the 2014 season. 

Oregon is already in something of a similar situation to last year when it was on the outside of the playoff bracket in spite of having won the Pac-12 title. The other four Big 5 conference champions were involved, so the Ducks really didn't have much to complain about in that they had two losses.

Actually, for all the chatter about a second-place team from a conference being added to the CFP, it's only happened once in six tries. And, the team that did get added: Alabama, which lost to SEC champ Georgia in division play; won both of its playoff games to become national champion.

The big question for Duck fans already is that if Oregon is 7-0 and Pac-12 Champion, are we going to get squeezed out of a spot in the semis in favor of a one-loss Texas A&M, which sits at No. 5 in the CFP rankings having lost only to No. 1 Alabama.

No. 7 Cincinnati is another interesting team in that it's likely to win the All-American Conference without having really played anyone. A lot of people might say that about Oregon.

Having looked over the rankings, it's pretty clear that without some huge upsets, and a number of them, the Ducks simply do not have a chance to make the CFP. Except maybe they do. It comes in the form of the Big 12, which is led by No. 11 Oklahoma at 6-2. No. 13 Iowa State is 6-2 as well. Those teams are likely to play for their conference title with the winner having nine wins.

If the Ducks can continue to improve and win impressively, then they'd be heading to the CFP voters with the whole Pacific Coast on their side, sorta just like last year until the disasterous loss at Arizona State.


The NBA better not cry Covid poverty

Sun, 11/22/2020 - 1:32pm
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In the era of economic upheaval society is in across America, and across the globe, a constant theme continues to emerge on a daily basis - pro sports doesn't seem to be affected by lack of money.

On Sunday, the Utah Jazz reported it had signed dynamic 24-year-old Donovan Mitchell to a contract extension that would keep him in Salt Lake City for another five seasons. All they needed to do was give him the Rookie Max Extension of $163 million over those five seasons, which could balloon to $195 if he plays his way onto the All-NBA Team in one of the next three seasons.

If you read the headline again, it's potentially $195 million over five years. That's $39 million per season.

Even though there were no fans in the stands for the NBA Playoffs at the end of summer, the NBA apparently isn't having a problem with money. Mitchell isn't, of course, the only player getting a Max Contract, regardless of the economics of the day. And, regardless of the fact there may not be fans in the stands when games begin again for the 2020-21 season in late December.

So, how I read this news is no one in the NBA better be complaining about lack of money because of the pandemic's affect on society.

And, that goes for all the other pro leagues. In spite of all the troubles with money so much of the public is facing, pro sports can throw it around like Monopoly paper. 

Pro leagues are just going about their business as usual in terms of player signings, which they really have to according to their contracts with players unions. But the negotiations between those parties should get some publicity to show that even pro sports are dealing with economic stress, something a $195 million player signing does not indicate.

Pro sports teams are not poor, so they better not cry poverty, even when they're laying off significant portions of their administrative staffs in some cases.


Oregon might very well be a playoff team

Mon, 11/09/2020 - 11:25am
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College athletics have been affected significantly this year by the global pandemic known as COVID-19, but Saturday showed off the college football world hasn’t changed much: the South and East Coast still run the world and Oregon fans can pretty much just hold their breath in relations to getting a spot in the four-team College Football Playoffs.

No. 1 Clemson lost to No. 4 Notre Dame in double overtime, but, of course, Clemson didn’t have its normal starter - Heisman candidate Trevor Lawrence due to pandemic protocol - so Clemson should still be a candidate for that top four teams if he were back in the line-up.

The second-best team in the Southeastern Conference, or, in this case the Atlantic Coast Conference, is always going to be better than the champion from the Pac-12. That’s how the weekend worked.

At least, that’s how this weekend worked. The Pac-12 wasn’t even going to play a season a month ago, then decided to give it a whack. So much is uncertain these days. But, the SEC and Clemson/Notre Dame commitment, that’s gold.

So, Oregon has some work to do if it hopes/expects a chance to compete for the national championship. And, why else play, of course, if you have a $100 million practice facility?

The Ducks did a fairly good job of showcasing their talents in the 35-14 win over Stanford Saturday at Autzen Stadium. Actually, very good starting with quarterback Tyler Shough, who ran for 85 yards on just 11 carries. His decision-making on hand-offs up the middle that turned into runs around the left end looked like national championship-caliber material.

Running back CJ Verdell’s ability to squeeze through small holes looks impressive, and the Ducks’ cadre of receivers led by DJ Johnson and Jaylon Redd did great work as well. On offense, Oregon looked great.

On defense, holding the Cardinal to 14 points was a good effort, although that was solely because of four missed field goals. Ouch. The Ducks gave up more than 400 yards of total offense, and forced only two punts. The team has just three tackles for loss. Stanford had a 32-28 edge in time of possession.

There’s work to do on defense, although it can be argued when the pressure hit the D did force those field-goal attempts.

Overall, it was a good win, setting up another chance for a good win at a potentially-pesky Washington State squad, and so on to the conference championship game - hopefully against USC and the Los Angeles media market, on Dec. 18 - primetime, a day ahead of the major conference title game bonanaza the following day.

All five of the major conferences have title games, so the idea that only conference champion teams should be among the four will be hyped-up this year in that there’s fewer games and weeks to promote some second-place division team such as often does within the SEC.

Oregon has a pathway to the College Football Playoffs, it just needs to play its way there by winning seven consecutive games, basically in the manner it did with Stanford on Saturday.


Oregon is ripe for return to regular life

Mon, 10/12/2020 - 2:11pm
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After watching a bunch of college and pro football this weekend, it’s not hard for a sports fan, and average citizen for that matter, to wonder when is Oregon going to get back to living again.

Plenty of other parts of the county are getting back to the lifestyle that’s been driving America for decades. What about Oregon?

Especially as the college football season is upcoming here in the Beaver state. Or Duck state depending on your color scheme.

If you’re on Facebook and attached at all to the Portland Timbers fan groups, owner Merritt Paulson is a constant voice for getting fans back into Providence Park. It’s interesting to see the responses.

On Facebook, Paulson gets plenty of pushback. People are still focused on the numbers that get promoted through media relating to the coronavirus, aka COVID-19. But, on TV there were plenty of games with fans in the stands across the South and Central states, where COVID-19 is as prevalent as it is in Oregon. In fact, it’s far more prevalent there than in Oregon, but the leaders of the state are set on eliminating it before sending the all-clear for residents to return to living as usual.

It’s time for a hearty review of Oregon’s settings by governor Kate Brown.

Brown has been the leader of the state’s efforts to keep the pandemic at bay, and whether you agree with her plan or not, the state has tallied just 599 deaths according to its published records through Monday. That’s an incredibly low number considering Brown promoted, in March, the state would have 75,000 cases by May, and immediately secured a wharehouse in Salem with 250 beds to handle the expected onslaught of cases. It never happened.

A significant factor in avoiding cases and deaths was the decision to direct residents to stay at home, and then wear masks when they went into public spaces like stores and restaurants.

But, places like theaters and gyms and stadiums remain off-limits. This weekend bowling alleys across the state pushed back with public displays aimed at the Governor to undue the directives that keep people from gathering in places like ... bowling alleys and gyms and stadiums.

Professional sports have been played without fans since June when the NWSL opened a tournament in Orlando where players were restricted to a “bubble,” where all of the players and coaches would stay and not leave as a best-case for avoiding the virus. It worked for the NWSL and has worked for the NBA and NHL. Major League baseball has played at its home fields since July and done well with the virus considering how many players and coaches and staff are involved with every game. Only a couple dozen games were postponed or cancelled. The NFL, with similar challenges - even greater considering there are double the players and staff for each team - is performing well, too. It’s colleges where things get very interesting for Oregon, because plenty of other colleges and universities, with ever larger teams than the NFL, are comfortable with playing their seasons, and even inviting fans back into the stands - something NFL teams are slowly allowing.

Brown has yet to say whether Oregon and Oregon State should be allowed to have fans at their games, beginning Nov. 7 when both play at home.


Herbert gets taste of NFL struggle

Mon, 09/21/2020 - 7:27am
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Former Oregon football great Justin Herbert had a near-fantastic introduction to the NFL Sunday, nearly leading the Los Angeles Chargers past the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs in a surprise start, including leading his team to a touchdown on his opening drive in the league.

Trouble is, the outcome was a loss in overtime, and it showcased why the Chargers are likely to help him to a shorten career, one marked by continued disappointment often regardless of his progress and skill.

The Chargers are just not a good team, and the franchise hasn't been much of a marquee franchise since former Oregon great Dan Fouts played there from 1973 to 1984 - twice reaching the AFC championship game. The team has played in the Super Bowl just once, losing to San Francisco in 1994.

Herbert and his team performed well enough to win - they made it to overtime. But almost is still a loss, and for reasons easy to point to starting with Herbert. In one of the key plays of the game, with his team leading in the third quarter and nearing a first down after scrambling from the pocket, Herbert chose to throw a long pass against his body into a bull market of KC defenders. It turned into an interception at the 5-yard line, which the Chiefs and quarterback Pat Mahomes turned into a 95-yard touchdown drive in just six plays to tie the game at 17.

The Chargers then had a spectacular 17-play drive that lasted more than 10 minutes. But, with first down at the KC 4, the Chargers ran twice up the middle for no yards and Herbert got sacked leading to a 23-yard field goal. KC then drove for a field goal that tied the game at the end of regulation.

LA's play calling coddled Herbert to an amazing degree, even though he finished by completing 22 of 33 passes for 311 yards and one 14-yard touchdown pass that gave the Chargers a 14-6 halftime lead. Almost all of the passes Herbert completed were shorter than 10 yards with extra yards produced by the receiver. That's play-calling for an untested rookie, which is a good thing on the Chargers' part.

The Chargers produced 482 yards of offense - an amazing total for any team in any game. But, they scored only 20 points - a head-scratcher of an outcome.

LA's defense even performed admirably. Despite giving up 414 yards of offense, it stymied Mahomes time and again. But, the Chargers were called for offsides numerous times, which benefitted the Chiefs time and again, including wiping out an interception in the fourth quarter.

The biggest play-call of the game for LA might easily have been fourth-and-1 at the Chargers' 34 on the first drive of overtime. With CBS color commentator urging LA coach Anthony Lynn to throw caution to the wind and go for the first down, which I was basically screaming for at my home office, Lynn chose to punt and the Chiefs drove for a winning field goal. Granted the field goal was a 58-yard attempt, but that's the difference in the two franchises these days. The Chiefs do what's needed to win, while the Chargers do what's needed to almost win.

And, this is inspite of the Chargers winning in their season opener on the road in Cincinatti 16-13, against first-time starter Joe Burrow. The win was with veteran Tyrod Taylor at quarterback and featured the team racking up 362 yards. Again, though, the team scored just 16 points.

LA is headed for a one frustrating season, and without Taylor getting hurt what fans saw Sunday is likely to be the biggest highlight of Herbert's rookie season, which featured short-pass completion after short-pass completion. At least, though, receivers caught the passes, something that dogged former Oregon great Joey Harrington in his career with the Detroit Lions.

Good luck Justin. Hopefully, Sunday's game is the start of a great career with a franchise that desperately needs the results of a quarterback having a great career - turning almost wins into actual wins.









It's movie list time - best sports films

Sat, 09/19/2020 - 9:15am
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When I rank movies, regardless of the type of list, I use the same system to get the result - can or will I watch this movie again. This means picking up the movie at virtually any point and following it to the end. It’s a movie that even though I know what’a going to happen and can in most cases recite the dialogue as it happens, I’ve got an attachment because of the script and casting.

These are the movies that do that best in the sports category - none of which I saw in a theater, but on network television of as a VHS rental.




I didn’t see this film until reading the owners of one of the two fields used for production of the film had decided to grow corn again. The other field, of course, is a national landmark and might be the site of a regular season game this summer if the Majors are allowed to play. The performances of Kevin Costner, James Earl Jones, Burt Lancaster, Amy Madigan and Ray Liotta showed off some fabulous casting. The story they weave through is wonderful fiction, the kind that might make you ... well, dream about the greatness of the game of baseball and how it can provide a hand in making personal amends in ones history with family.


ROCKY, 1976


Two pieces of greatness of this film are that Sylvester Stallone wrote it for himself to star in, and it’s the movie that gave the world the steadicam, created by one its production crew. Stallone’s script is more about the personal development of the characters than it is with boxing, which helped the film win the Academy Award for Best Movie. Stallone, Burgess Meredith, Talia Shire, even Burt Young  grow from being nobodies to characters who an audience has an emotional attachment with that survives Rocky actually losing the big fight at the end. And, all those sequels - Rocky III almost made this list.




One big question about this film is when do you share it with your son? Kids nowadays don’t seem to be able to laugh at the basic obsenity that makes this movie so memorable. Again (even though it was released a year before “Field of Dreams”), Costner is fabulous casting as “Crash” Davis, and Tim Robbins is memorable as the over-talented Ebby Calvin “Nuke” Laloosh, both walking us through the highway of life at the lowest level of pro baseball. Maybe it’s more vibrant than the majors. Susan Sarandon’s Annie Savoy puts the film onto this list.  




Like Rocky, it’s a drama you get into because of the acting, primarily Paul Newman. Jackie Gleason, George C. Scott and Piper Laurie are great casting that carries you through more than two hours. The lengthy billiards scenes are so much different than the chase or fight scenes of modern action films in that they have dialogue that adds to the drama of the story. You wouldn’t think about getting up and buying a beer in a theater because the story keeps developing. And, it led to one of the great sequels for any movie - “The Color of Money,” three decades later. 




I can laugh all the way through this movie because of how stupid it is, which pretty much makes the best comedies. There’s so many wonderfully dry comedic performances. Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, Rodney Dangerfield, Ted Knight and whoever played Danny (a very young Michael O’Keefe) move the story along one laugh at a time. In watching a very funny dockumentary on the film, you learn producers realized late in filming that Murray and Chase hadn’t appeared in the same scene, which led to Chase hitting a ball into Murray’s disheveled bungalow where he displays his development of varieties of marijuana that could become the “grass” of future golf courses. Kenny Loggins’ soundtrack got me to buy the album. 

The Pac-12 should hold off and own spring football

Sat, 09/19/2020 - 8:35am
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In the coming week, the presidents of the 12 colleges that make up the Pac-12 conference (they're now often being referred to as CEOs), will meet to discuss restarting the football season before October ends, like the CEOs of the Pac-12s brother/sister the Big-10 have done.

When they meet, hopefully they'll move off that topic and to a better one - owning spring football.

The Pac-12 should skip fall football and own spring football as it would be the lone major conference playing at that time.

Who really cares about the national championship anyway? It's the confernence title that matters most.

The Pac-12 should skip fall football for 2020, and own spring football, getting back to the 2021 season in fall.


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