Washington State had hoped to make a splash with its hire of Mike Leach as football coach last fall, and the Cougars no doubt would tell you today:
So far, so good.
Wednesday, ESPN announced that it has moved up WSU’s 2012 season opener at Brigham Young from Saturday, Sept. 1 to Thursday night, Aug. 30 at 7:15 (PDT). There are a couple of compelling story lines there, the biggest that Leach is making his return to college football after a two-year hiatus.
The game — already scheduled before he took the WSU job, of course — also matches him with his alma mater. It’s the place where, although he didn’t play college football, he became fascinated by BYU’s famous passing game.
Earlier, Washington State’s third game of the season, at Nevada-Las Vegas, was moved up a day from a Saturday, Sept. 15 date to the 14th at 6 p.m., also to accommodate ESPN.
The moves are of no immediate financial benefit to WSU, because under the new revenue-sharing agreement engineered by Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, that money is divvied equally among all Pac-12 schools. The start of the 2012-13 school year marks the beginning of the lucrative league contracts with ESPN and Fox, earmarked to bring the league some $3 billion over 12 years. (The ESPN contract calls for four Thursday and Friday night games apiece annually, so the Cougars have just filled two of those eight league slots for 2012.)
It’s a sign that indeed, schools will need to be flexible under the new contracts, which are going to spill over onto some days we haven’t traditionally been used to seeing, such as limited basketball on Wednesday nights.
More than that, it’s something of a coup for the Cougars, who haven’t had a lot to cheer about in recent football seasons. The exposure, at times when much of the nation can be watching, could be valuable, and it clearly has a lot to do with the installation of Leach.
The BYU and UNLV games could also be a showcase for quarterback Jeff Tuel, not a widely known name outside the West Coast.