Commentary

Washington State raises the bar

The Mike Leach hire puts pressure on Pac-12 defenses -- and its athletic directors

Updated: December 1, 2011, 11:49 AM ET
By Brock Huard | ESPN Insider
Mike LeachRonald Martinez/Getty ImagesWashington State's hire of Mike Leach will have an impact on the entire Pac-12.

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott continues to re-shape and push his conference in a new direction. Whether he is marketing, pursuing expansion or cleaning up the league's officiating, the Harvard alum and former head of the WTA seemingly never rests. Scott and his team put together the largest television rights deal in the history of college athletics, and yesterday we saw the magnitude of what that deal means.

The Washington State Cougars' football program has been the doormat of the Pac-12 conference over the last half-decade, following an impressive stretch that included two Rose Bowl appearances. With a $38 million athletic department budget and a challenging geographic environment where the majority of the university's alumni live hundreds of miles away from campus, fundraising and filling a football stadium can be a daunting challenge. Paul Wulff's nine wins in four seasons didn't help matters, and athletic director Bill Moos made a swift and decisive move to change both the performance on the field and the perception off of it.

Moos, a former WSU offensive lineman, was at the center of re-shaping the Oregon Ducks from also-ran to conference champion. As athletic director in Eugene, Moos was able to leverage Phil Knight's resources to change the culture and enhance the spending and budget. Moos doesn't have Phil Knight on his side in Pullman, but he does have Scott, and the more than $20 million per year coming into every conference member's pocket thanks to that $3 billion long-term television deal.

All numbers aside, the bottom line is very simple: Three years ago Bill Moos and the Cougars would have never been able to afford one of the biggest names in the college football coaching world. Yesterday, they inked a five-year contract with Mike Leach for over $2 million per year and rattled the cages of the other 11 members of the conference.

It also raises the bar across the Pac-12.

• College football analyst for ESPN
• Six-year NFL QB and three-year starter at University of Washington
• Co-host of the Brock and Danny Show on ESPN 710 AM in Seattle