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Canzano: Don't ignore the glow of college athletics
"It's too much" said one UCLA athlete.
SEATTLE — You can’t miss the purple glow of Husky Stadium from Interstate-5 and Ship Canal Bridge late at night here. In the darkness, it looks like a hallway night-light for the University of Washington.
It was the voices in the early morning, however, that caught my ear.
Constantinos Michaelides is a senior at UCLA. He was born in the Republic of Cyprus, an island country in the Mediterranean Sea. He’s an Honor Roll student, studying economics, who plays soccer for the Bruins.
“It’s too much if you ask me,” Michaelides said.
In fact, I did ask.
I encountered Michaelides and his teammates at breakfast at their team hotel at 7:15 a.m. on Friday morning. The Bruins lost 3-2 to Washington on Thursday night. I figured I might never get the chance again, so I asked Michaelides something I’ve been wondering about for a while — UCLA’s planned move to the Big Ten Conference.
What did he think? How might the travel demands affect players? The Big Ten won’t be his problem. He’s just about out of NCAA eligibility. But I wondered as Bruins wiped sleep from their eyes and packed for the drive to Oregon State (where they’ll play Sunday afternoon), whether anyone was thinking about them.
Andres Ochoa, a UCLA assistant, walked in and reminded players to be sure they turned in their uniforms to be washed. They looked up, nodded, then went back to their bowls of oatmeal, coffee, and juice. Also, the coach said, the vans would leave in 15 minutes.
The players finished eating, talked quietly, and scrolled through their iPhones. One player, on a laptop, sat away from the others, appearing to work on a school assignment. A few others wandered in late, backpacks slung over their shoulders, grabbed breakfast sandwiches and walked toward the waiting vans outside.
Six days earlier, UCLA beat Rutgers — a Big Ten member — 1-0 in a match played in Piscataway, New Jersey.
“That’s five or six hours on a plane,” Michaelides said. “We’re students. We’re here for school, too. If you ask me it’s too much, just too much.”
I wished him luck.
It’s a small sample size. I’m sure there must be UCLA athletes in favor of the move. I’d love to talk with them, too. I asked the Bruins athletic department if they’d provide one. I’ll update if they do.
I understand UCLA’s financial problems. The university athletic department has been mismanaged. The solution administration has come up with is to chase new revenue into the midwest. I get it. Football is a moneymaker. A $62.5-million-a-year media-rights payday drives the decisions in this new world of college athletics. But I’m worried we’ve all lost our minds and the “college” part of that last sentence.
“I don’t want to be part of the Big Ten,” Bill Walton said this week, “I want to beat the Big Ten.”
The UCLA basketball legend and broadcaster is typically colorful and outlandish when he does interviews. He can be cartoonishly positive. But the Walton we heard from this week was measured, thoughtful and sober. His words punched with impact. I don’t know if it will change a thing, but I’m glad Walton spoke up.
The UC Regents will meet Nov. 15-17 in San Francisco. They’re expected to make a decision on the Bruins. I think there’s a good chance the regents will scold UCLA, slap it on the wrist, and send the Bruins off to the Big Ten.
I’m here to cover the story with sourced, in-depth, analysis. I value geography and tradition. I care about the “college” part of college athletics. So I don’t love the idea of UCLA in the Big Ten any more than I like the thought of Michigan in the Pac-12.
As I drove into Seattle on Thursday night, I noticed the purple glow that radiated from UW’s home football stadium. In the darkness around it, there were practice fields, intramural fields, a medical center, dorms, apartments, and a college campus that serves tens of thousands of students.
There’s a lot of synergy in this college game. I couldn’t see it. But it’s all there.
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