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THE CHEAP SEATS with STEVE CAMERON: Trying to keep those college ships afloat

| August 26, 2020 1:20 AM

The Watergate scandal went down almost 50 years ago, but there are some memories of it that will burn on forever.

For instance, the mysterious source called Deep Throat.

Do you remember what this shadowy figure told reporter Bob Woodward?

If Woodward and colleague Carl Bernstein intended to unravel all the illegal activities of the Nixon administration, Deep Throat said, they needed to stay on just one path…

“Follow the money.”

That three-word echo has explained SO many things, and not just about Watergate or the tracking of political malfeasance.

You can understand an awful lot about society — past and present — by simply following the money.

And for better or worse…

Sports are no different.

In this era of COVID-19, trying to figure out which college and pro teams are actually going to play out actual schedules sometimes seems baffling.

In truth, though, we can pretty well guess how things will play out by simply following the money.

NO ONE is trying to hide it, either.

University athletic departments are hemorrhaging money, and the only way to get some cash coming back the other way is through TV deals.

That income obviously depends on providing a product.

Washington State AD Pat Chun is staring at a deficit of roughly $100 million.

Chun and his counterparts at other Pac-12 schools absolutely must put the health and safety of their athletes first.

They’ve gritted their teeth and stood behind conference CEOs as all sports have been halted through Jan. 1.

Meanwhile, they’re assuming they MUST come up with a plan for a semi-complete basketball season and then cobble together football schedules for the spring.

I’m not sure a college athletic department can legally file for bankruptcy — but in terms of real dollars and cents, that’s where several Pac-12 schools would be without any hoops or football in this academic year.

It isn’t just our neighborhood, either.

Universities with Division I athletic programs already have lost a lot of money with the cancellation of March Madness.

Schools like Gonzaga, which see no football revenue, felt a real fiscal body blow.

No less an icon than Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski has said, plain and simple, that we cannot miss that March Madness celebration (and financial windfall) two years in the row.

YOU SEE where we’re going here, yes?

Even with many schools closing campuses and going to all-out virtual classes, everyone hopes sports money-makers (football and men’s basketball) can keep their ships from sinking.

Believe it or not, that virtual model gives athletic departments the most hope — financially speaking.

What we’ve learned from the Major League Baseball experiment will naturally be copied by the NFL.

Players have to be responsible for maintaining their own personal bubbles, with plenty of testing and nobody heading to a strip club for an order of wings.

Baseball has proved that it works.

The issue with colleges, however, was always going to be interaction with the rest of the student body.

In other words, chatting with those frat guys who just left a wild party with hangovers…

And Covid-19.

But if there AREN’T any other kids hanging around campus?

Then teams can maintain a bubble, move it cautiously on the road (baseball does it), and play out a pretty full season.

For spring football, maybe you could even try a Rose Bowl.

With hoops, there’s no doubt the best option would be March Madness inside the bubble at Disney World — just like the NBA.

However it gets done, though, and whatever time of year works best, major colleges HAVE to play basketball and football.

The alternative is unthinkable.

Ask Pat Chun.

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 offseason.