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Potential Postponement Fallout: Could UW, Pac-12 Have Players Poached?

The issue was raised almost immediately after the conference called off its fall seasons for football and other sport. See the response.
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Ray Anderson sat in his office that looks out on Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona, a football facility that will empty at the time and likely will remain that way for the next four to six months.

From his high-back tan chair, the Arizona State University athletic director peered into the camera on his computer, facilitating a Zoom meeting being conducted with Pac-12 and national media members.

He dared others to mess with his football program and those of his conference peers.

"We will play again," Anderson said. "To the extent others think there is an opportunity to come in and recruit our players, then we would say, 'Have at it.' "

A tone of defiance was easily detectable in the man's voice as he made this challenge, basically daring anyone to try it.

Such is potentially one of the most unnerving drawbacks for a college-football landscape splintering off in dramatically different directions.

Of the Power 5 conferences, the Pac-12 and Big Ten have chosen not to play this fall over concerns of the novel coronavirus outbreak, pushing its games into 2021.

The SEC, ACC and Big 12, thinking otherwise about the pandemic, will push forward and play next month and beyond, though only the latter conference has made this official.

In the ultra competitive world of this often out-of-control college enterprise, where few of its participants play by the same rules — just look at the aforementioned decision — there's a real concern that player poaching might occur.

All it would take is a school to blatantly encourage an impatient player to abandon his idle Pac-12 or Big Ten program and come join it.

When it involves Division 1 football and basketball, the NCAA never has offered a unified organization. Even now, president Mark Emmert says the organization has no power over dictating what these conferences do in response to the pandemic.

If true, then what good is the NCAA? 

Cheating has been rampant since World War II, since before the beginning of super-rich TV contracts. Programs were in disarray back then and everyone — the University of Washington was one of the first to get caught — paid top players to come help restore their rebuilding post-war teams.

The Huskies paid Hugh McElhenny in excess of his scholarship money for three seasons after USC improperly funded the running back for a season. This came after schools such as southern powerhouse Alabama made offers counter to the rules to the eventual Pro Football Hall of Fame running back.

McElhenny detailed all of these shenanigans 16 years ago to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in a story that you can read here and in a book (written by me). 

The Huskies currently have four players in senior cornerback Elijah Molden, senior defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike and junior defensive end Joe Tryon — each singled out as a first-team All-America selection in the preseason — offensive tackle Jaxson Kirkland who might be obvious targets for something as underhanded as player theft.

Each UW defender is a serious pro prospect who may or may not have played his final down for the Huskies because the fall schedule has been wiped out.

A makeup season in 2021 most likely will conflict with the NFL combine that takes place in February and the NFL draft that happens in late April. 

ASU's Anderson thinks Pac-12 players will maintain a sense of loyalty to their schools, though that may be wishful thinking at its best considering pro football careers are at stake.

"We made the decision in the best interest of our student-athlete," Anderson said. "We're not going to change what's important to us, which is protect our student-athlete, rather than be worried that they'll entice our student-athletes away."

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