SEATTLE - We start with the Pac-12 Championship Game that may or may not involve the Washington Huskies, your North Division champions.
That's right: North Division Champs. It’s a title that comes with an asterisk – but a different one than you might think.
I acknowledge that there were a few chuckles when the Huskies tweeted out their accomplishment of being named division champs. It included just four games, and their 3-1 record was overshadowed by their inability to play Oregon because of COVID-19 issues. Given the fierce rivalry between the two schools, it left a lot of Ducks fans shaking their heads saying “Give me a break,” and even some Husky fans shrugging, saying “Hey, we’ll take what we can get!”
No, the Dawgs didn’t play close to a full schedule this year. No one did. But the asterisk next to the Huskies divisional championship deserves more than just a negative connotation.
It also needs to represent the incredible sacrifices all of these student-athletes have made to play in the midst of a pandemic. Dealing with uncertainty every single day and abiding by stringent protocols, while still committing to all the meetings and all the workouts – and doing so while trying to keep up with virtual education.
These players had a choice to opt out of this season and keep their scholarships. So essentially, they’re playing for free. And for most, the endgame is simply their love of the sport: playing for their team, their school, and ultimately to entertain the rest of us at home.
To bash them for something completely out of their control is pretty weak – even more “weak” than you might consider their divisional title. Let these kids hang their hats on something, devoid of cruelty or conspiracy theories about dodging teams just to get a spot in a conference championship game that they might not even be able to play this week.
Last week, the mother of Husky cornerback Elijah Molden, who is from the state of Oregon, tweeted quote, “Let me clear something up. We haven’t seen our son in almost six months to protect the football “bubble.” Players sacrifice DAILY, to keep games going. NOBODY is lacking in incentive to play. We want the game to happen as badly as Duck fans do. It’s a pandemic, not a conspiracy.”
So far this year, the Cougs had three games cancelled – this weekend, just 90 minutes before kickoff. Stanford dealt with a false positive test that kept their starting quarterback out of one game and affected his preparation time the following week. Nothing this season was ordinary or fair.
So when I say that the Huskies are North Champs, and it comes with an asterisk, it means that I acknowledge their perseverance through a much different kind of adversity. One that wasn’t normal or expected, and one that tested the patience and fortitude in a much different way than this sport ever has before.
Does it give Oregon even more motivation for next year? Sure. That’s the beauty of it all.
But the Huskies still earned a North Divisional title. And if you put an asterisk next to the title, give it its proper due.