It had to be Mike Leach.
Who else could get under the skin of 40 million people at a football press conference?
You’ve probably already heard the headline version of a rather long and amazing blast that the Wazzu coach unleashed at his regular weekly press conference.
“The state of California has trouble keeping their streets clean right now,” Leach told the assembled media, “so my thought is that they probably ought to focus on that.”
Yep, that statement instantly went viral, merely adding to Leach’s reputation as an outspoken character with an opinion — researched or not — on just about anything.
In truth, Leach wasn’t really talking about street sweeping in the Golden State.
Nor was he actually delivering a speech on California’s infrastructure, though he touched on that, too.
No, as he’s done with other subjects that range from wise to wacky, Mike was throwing out some red meat just to get everyone’s attention, because...
He wanted to make a different point entirely.
THE COACH was pretty wound up over a bill that has passed the California Legislature.
It’s called “Fair Pay to Play,” and if Gov. Gavin Newsom signs it into law, athletes at colleges and universities in his state would be allowed to be paid for use of their names and images.
Leach rattled on about how it basically would turn California college athletes into professionals, and at one point he sarcastically suggested USC, Stanford and so on would actually form a minor league for the NFL.
The one critical notion Leach meant to get across, though, was that if California student-athletes could make money from, say, selling autographs or calendars or whatever...
Teams in the state would have a huge recruiting advantage over their competitors in the rest of the country.
It’s never going to happen — at least not in one state alone.
What we’re seeing is California using its considerable clout — it’s the sixth-largest economy in the world — to fire a shot across the bow of the NCAA.
The matter of athletes being able to profit from their abilities with pay from outside endeavors has been debated for a while, and so far the NCAA has forbidden it.
But now the largest state in the Union seems ready to force the issue by passing this “Fair Pay for Play” law, while at the same time withholding enforcement until 2023 — thus giving the NCAA a few years to change a policy that is frankly ridiculous.
I’M NOT sure exactly what Leach’s deep-down objection to all this might be, unless he fears a few seasons of recruiting disadvantage until all states are on the same page.
But consider the underlying issue itself.
A chemistry major on an academic scholarship at UCLA can take money from an outside company every week of the year — all because of his or her skills in a particular industry.
So why not athletes?
It’s totally unfair, and I know from long experience that plenty of athletes — studying and practicing almost every hour of every day — barely can scrape up enough money for pizza.
I remember a couple of basketball stars at the University of Illinois, both future NBA players, taking a bus home to Chicago to visit their families because neither had a car.
It sticks with me because I gave them a ride to the bus station.
IT’S TRULY laughable that Mark Emmert, the empty suit who is president of the NCAA, reacted to this threat from the West Coast by stating that California schools would be barred from NCAA competition if the bill becomes law four years from now.
Emmert could have stopped there, but instead...
He also claimed that the California law would be unconstitutional, which is hilarious on the face of it.
Most sensible people (Leach included) likely can see the total bias of denying athletes the same rights as thousands of their fellow students.
They won’t be paid by the schools, so that’s not the argument here.
It’s merely giving athletes the same opportunity to make a few bucks as any other college kids.
What in the world is wrong with that?
The sooner it happens, the better.
Steve Cameron’s “Cheap Seats” columns for The Press appear on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Steve also contributes the “Zags Tracker” package on Gonzaga basketball once monthly during the offseason.