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THE CHEAP SEATS WITH STEVE CAMERON: Save the Crucifix for someone else

| August 5, 2020 1:14 AM

Whoa, guys!

Hold up on construction of that cross.

We may not need to crucify Nick Rolovich after all.

Turns out the Washington State coach said just about the most obvious things you’d expect when confronted with a player “opting out” for a season — and being a little mysterious about whether it was entirely for medical reasons.

The other option, obviously, would be sitting out a year as part of the boycott threatened by #WeAreUnited players who have decided to challenge the Pac-12 Conference over a long list of grievances — some of which definitely should be addressed.

It turns out, though, that since the activist players issued a manifesto on Sunday without much previous explanation to the conference’s thousand-plus players…

There was bound to be plenty of confusion among athletes and administrators.

We certainly saw a serious dose of “Say what?” at Wazzu, where Rolovich’s chat with wide receiver Kassidy Woods got blown all out of proportion — and then a nuclear rumor lit up national media outlets like Christmas in August.

THIS WAS modern-day, instant communication at its worst.

Not much actually was asked of the key principals involved, but there was plenty of shooting from the hip for splashy headlines — plus an honest reporter hustling just a wee bit too hard, making a guess, and getting burned.

Let’s start with the Rolovich-Woods chat.

The coach said all the right things when Woods explained that since he carries the Sickle Cell trait, exposure to Covid-19 would be especially dangerous for him.

Rolovich then had every right to ask whether Woods would be a member of the boycott crowd, since conference coaches still didn’t know the group’s exact agenda (that didn’t come until a day later).

Representing the university, Rolovich was in fair territory when he asked if Woods was opting out entirely because of the health issue — or if it might be part of a larger player movement.

You can parse Rolo’s words in that phone call however you want.

Bottom line: Rolovich assured Woods that his scholarship was safe, and everything else in the call was just what you’d expect when neither player nor coach had much clue — not right then — what #WeAreUnited was doing or demanding.

BUT WOODS, and the world at large, somehow decided that Rolovich was throwing him off the team — presumably because he was asked to clean out his locker.

Remember now, this is a young man who just said he was at serious risk with COVID-19, so you’d assume places like the locker room would be out for the immediate future.

There was no hint that Rolovich wanted Woods out of the program, not at all.

But hey, that angle makes great media fodder.

Here are the first two paragraphs of a story from the New York Post…

“There is a new poster boy for the many injustices in college athletics.

“Meet 41-year-old Washington State football coach Nick Rolovich.”

Or, how about a sports website called The Big Lead, which opened with this headline…

“Nick Rolovich just lit his career on fire.”

Yikes!

Something to note here is that, by Monday, plenty of people had heard from — and quoted — Kassidy Woods.

But no one had bothered to ask Rolovich what he meant, and…

Did he really intend to cut every player who associated with the boycott movement?

On Monday, Rolo did speak (via statement) and said, in essence, he was sorry his words might have misinterpreted, Woods could certainly still be a Coug, and he was proud of any WSU player who chose to speak up on social or institutional issues.

So suddenly, if the fire wasn’t completely out, it was down to a few smoldering embers.

The good news…

Rolo didn’t need to be crucified at midfield inside Martin Stadium.

HOWEVER, there was still plenty of confusion regarding “WeAreUnited” in Pullman.

Several players argued with each other on social media — the major theme being that many Cougs agreed with the issues brought up by the group threatening to boycott, but…

They were intending to play football, no matter what.

Those sorts of spats were entirely predictable, but the whole thing was inflamed by a Spokane reporter who thought he knew more than he did.

On Sunday, Theo Lawson of the Spokesman-Review — in my opinion, a good and honest reporter — made an error.

We all make ‘em.

Lawson tweeted…

“Am told multiple other #WSU players who shared the #WeAreUnited” graphics have been released from the team, as well.”

Needless to say, that set off a separate firestorm, and the national media might have gone nuts with this one.

Finally, though, we reach the point where things are too outrageous and too impractical to be true.

The university simply CANNOT be dumping players and/or revoking scholarships for the “crime” of agreeing with a potential boycott movement.

AND NO…

Washington State had not gone fascist.

So far, the only Cougar besides Woods to opt out of the coming season is defensive back Patrick Nunn.

Finally, with everyone’s head spinning, we heard from Wazzu AD Pat Chun.

Here’s part of that message from the boss…

Chun told ESPN why Woods had to be separated from the team, and insisted it nothing to do with #WeAreUnited.

“His health and safety is our No. 1 priority,” Chun said Monday night. “For an athletic director, everything else after that is a moot point.”

Chun said Rolovich was trying to be proactive with the players while not knowing the full details of the campaign.

“Rolo is not the coach that’s going to bury his head in the sand and wait,” Chun said. “He’s trying to have honest conversations with his guys. No one had any idea what their concerns or demands were until Sunday.”

Chun said Washington State will honor all scholarships for athletes who choose to opt out of the season specifically because of the player unity movement, and not a specific health concern.

So…

Nobody has been released, no one has lost a scholarship – and the Cougars are free to explore the unity movement.

Are we finally square?

Good.

Let’s save that crucifix for somebody else.

Email: scameron@cdapress.com

Steve Cameron’s “Cheap Seats” columns appear in The Press on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. “Moments, Memories and Madness,” his reminiscences from several decades as a sports journalist, runs each Sunday.

Steve also writes Zags Tracker, a commentary on Gonzaga basketball, once per month during the off season.