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Rick Neuheisel: Pac-12 needs to be playing football

Former Colorado head coach believes conference has to show commitment to football

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Rick Neuheisel understands why the Pac-12 made the decision to postpone its football season last month.

The former head coach of the Colorado Buffaloes, UCLA Bruins and Washington Huskies also knows the conference could get further left behind this fall if others play and the Pac-12 doesn’t.

Concerns about the spread of COVID-19 led to the Pac-12 postponing its fall sports season on Aug. 11, joining the Big Ten, Mountain West and MAC.

Head Coach Rick Neuheisel of the ...
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Head Coach Rick Neuheisel of the UCLA Bruins watches the game against the Washington State Cougars during the game at the Rose Bowl on Oct. 2, 2010 in Pasadena, California. UCLA defeated Washington State 42-28.

“No one can fault a league for making a decision based on health, safety and wellness,” Neuheisel, a CBS Sports college football analyst, told BuffZone. “The Pac-12 delivered a 12-page document stating the reasons for their decision, and they stood by it, they stood united … it’s completely and totally understandable.”

The lack of rapid, daily testing was a big reason for the postponement. Last week, however, the Pac-12 announced a partnership with Quidel Corporation to provide daily testing with results available in 15 minutes. The tests will be available to Pac-12 teams by the end of the month.

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott has publicly expressed optimism about the conference playing football by Jan. 1, if not sooner, because of the tests.

“If that helps them advance and play football prior to Jan. 1, I’m all for it, because I think we need to be playing football,” Neuheisel said.

Six Football Bowl Subdivision conferences, including the ACC, Big 12 and SEC, are moving forward with a fall season. While several of those campuses have seen a spike in COVID-19 positive tests, none of the outbreaks have been traced to football practices.

“No one can prove to me that these kids are safer away from the environments that they’ve proven that they can flourish in,” Neuheisel said. “And I just think the Pac-12 needs to be really aggressive about making a statement about how much they love football, and how much they want to build their brand of football, as it pertains to the national scene.

“It’s been far too long we’ve sat there on the sidelines watching everybody else play.”

Neuheisel’s concern for the Pac-12 goes beyond this year.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, the Pac-12 had fallen behind its peers, financially and on the field.

In the six-year history of the College Football Playoff, the Pac-12 has been included just twice, with Oregon in 2014 and Washington in 2016. Only Oregon reached the title game. Southern California was the last Pac-12 team to win a national title, in 2004 – and that was later vacated.

Neusheisel grew up in Arizona, played at UCLA and spent nearly his entire coaching career in the west, including at CU (1995-98), Washington (1999-02) and UCLA (2008-11). He led CU and Washington to top-5 rankings, played for a top-5 UCLA team and has watched USC, Oregon and Stanford be among the cream of the crop nationally.

“I know the quality of student-athlete that exists in the western half the United States,” said Neuheisel, the 1984 Rose Bowl MVP. “I know the quality of the coach that exists on the western half the United States and it’s time we stand up and be accounted and get back to championship football.”

That’s why getting back on the field soon is important, Neuheisel said. That will show recruits that the Pac-12 is committed to football, and the conference can’t afford to continue losing top talent to other conferences.

“We’ve watched too many (top recruits) from the western half of the United States leave,” he said. “It’s not like they’re leaving for the weather. They’re leaving because there are bells and whistles elsewhere and more attention elsewhere and we’ve got to fix that.”

When the Pac-12 does get back on the field, it’s going to take a collective effort to produce championship contenders. USC’s fall from national relevance – the Trojans are 13-12 the past two years – has hurt the hurt the conference, Neuheisel said, but it’s not all on the Trojans.

“It doesn’t have to just be USC that pulls the weight,” Neuheisel said, citing the past success of Oregon, Washington, UCLA, CU and others.

“There’s no reason you can’t have those kinds of programs in the Pac-12 footprint, if you can keep the Pac-12 footprint players home. We’ve got to put our money where our mouth is. We’ve got to invest in these programs so that they’re the equals of these mausoleums that exist elsewhere.”