Big Game Notes, Baker’s Meltdown, Tax Changes, Mora Out, LaVar vs. Donald
To those of us in the Bay Area, the tradition of the Big Game is second to none, because Stanford and Cal really do have “student”-athletes, and they really do respect each other. That was evident in the comments made throughout the week not only by head coaches David Shaw and Justin Wilcox, but also by the players. It was also evidenced by the quality of play, the all-out effort by both teams, the sellout crowd, and the obvious significance that winning the game and retaining the Stanford Axe had for the Cardinal.
The teams battled on even terms for four quarters, before Stanford intercepted a pass on the 6-yard line—thwarting Cal’s march to a potential go-ahead touchdown—and then ran out the clock to win 17-14.
Laird/Love: Two totally different running styles were evident. Stanford’s Bryce Love, capable of going the distance on any play, scoring the decisive touchdown on a 57-yard burst, despite a bad ankle. Cal’s Patrick Laird, all heart, driving relentlessly, maybe the best player on the field this day. Stanford’s Cameron Scarlett, in the Laird mold, running the ball 11 straight times to run off the final 7:25.
Fast-moving: Some college football games—particularly those featuring spread offenses—are interminable, but Big Game moved quickly because of few penalties (five on each team), strong running attacks, and the fact that both teams actually used huddles most of the time.
51,242: Stanford’s first sellout crowd of the season! Long overdue, given the quality of the team and the presence of Love. Let’s hope the fans turn out again this Saturday for a matchup of No. 20 Stanford vs. No. 9 Notre Dame, again at the more palatable kickoff time of 5:00 pm.
Pre-game: Big Game always brings out tons of alums and former players. At Chuck Taylor Grove, a plethora of Stanford greats were spotted—Jim Plunkett, Bob Moore, Kenny Margerum, Darrin Nelson, Chuck Evans, Bill Kellar, and basketball star Kim Belton, now a top producer/director with ESPN, in town to televise tonight’s Stanford-North Carolina hoops game.
Bowl eligibility: At 5-6, Cal can still qualify for post-season play with a win at UCLA this Saturday. It would be a fitting end to an impressive first season for head coach Justin Wilcox, whose Bears were expected to win only three games this year.
Pac-12 Schedule: The Pac-12 has taken some hits this year, including in this space, but the conference’s quality competition on rivalry weekend looked awfully good in comparison to some of the cupcakes scheduled by SEC and ACC teams. On November 19, in the next-to-last week of the regular season, No. 1 Alabama took on…Mercer. And No. 4 Clemson engaged in a fierce battle with…the Citadel. Are you kidding me?
Half-baked: Quarterback Baker Mayfield’s classless, embarrassing behavior on the sidelines of the Oklahoma-Kansas game—grabbing his crotch and shouting profanities at the hapless Jayhawk defenders—will deservedly cost him some votes, but he’s still the front-runner for the Heisman Trophy. However, if the Baker stumbles this weekend against West Virginia or in the Big 12 title game Dec. 2, don’t be surprised if enough folks who were turned off by this display (as well as other Mayfield mis-steps in the past) switch their votes to allow Love or Penn State’s Saquon Barkley to walk off with the Heisman.
Tax Bill Ramifications: Lost in the hubbub over the proposed tax “reform” proposals in Congress are a couple of significant sports-related changes. 1) Both the House and Senate versions eliminate the tax deductions for seat licenses, or as referred to in the bills, “college athletic seating rights.” Currently, 80% of the cost is tax deductible. So, let’s say you were required to contribute $2,000 for the right to buy two 30-yard line seats at Stanford Stadium this season. This year you could deduct $1,600. Next year, if the bill becomes law, that deduction will not be allowed.
2) The House bill also would disallow the issuance of tax-exempt municipal bonds to finance the construction of pro sports stadiums. If this goes through, the Raiders move to Las Vegas will suddenly become a lot more costly for the city of Las Vegas.
Mora Out: UCLA fired head football coach Jim Mora yesterday. The firing wasn’t a surprise, but the timing, with one week remaining in the regular season, was. Athletic Director Dan Guerrero apparently made the change to avoid a potentially awkward situation if the 5-6 Bruins were to beat Cal on Saturday and secure a bowl invitation. I’m sure he also wanted to get a head start on finding a new coach before other schools issued pink slips this weekend.
Mora had posted an overall record of 46-30 in Westwood, but never won a league championship despite the presence of premier QB Josh Rosen. In fact, the Bruins haven’t won a league title under its last three coaches—Rick Neuheisel, Karl Dorrell, or Mora—so Guerrero is feeling some heat to get it right this time.
Money isn’t a problem. Mora had four years remaining on his contract with a buyout of $12 million. The Bruins—and their donors—were willing to eat that to re-boot the program. No doubt a new $56 million football practice and training facility funded by mega-donor Casey Wasserman and a $280 million Under Armour contract helped ease the pain somewhat.
LaVar and Donald: After President Trump intervened last week to help three shoplifting UCLA basketball players avoid jail time in China, the father of one of the players, an insufferable blowhard named LaVar Ball, questioned the President’s involvement. Trump did well by stepping in for the Bruin ballers, but unfortunately, felt the need to respond to LaVar with a disparaging tweet of his own, “I should have left them in jail!”
Don’t we all have better things to do?