DICK BENNETT, THE FATHER OF basketball’s famed Pack Line Defense and a coaching veteran in both the Big Ten and the Pac-10, doesn’t sugarcoat his disappointment. The consolidation of major-college athletics into two super conferences is “a sad state,” he told Cougfan.com on Wednesday.
“I just feel so bad about it,” the former Washington State, Wisconsin, Wisconsin-Green Bay and Wisconsin-Stevens Point legend said. “I’m glad I’m not in it anymore so I don’t have to think and worry about it.
Last week’s earthquake news that USC and UCLA are heading to the Big Ten after 100 years in the Pac-12 put an exclamation point on the changing face of the college landscape.
“I see what chasing the money means but… I’m concerned for WSU in terms of their ability to play and generate income that comes from TV packages and other things. And I’m concerned about the athletes that are affected in the recruiting process who choose to leave for ‘greener’ pastures in the portal system. And I’m just afraid we’re losing the amateurism that made college sports — I think in my opinion — the best form of high-level entertainment you can find.”
Bennett laid the foundation for a renaissance in Cougar basketball as head coach from 2003-06 when he instituted the stifling Pack Line Defense and recruited future stars like Kyle Weaver, Derrick Low and Aron Baynes who would help his son, Tony Bennett, lead WSU to the NCAA Tournament in 2007 and 2008.
“Washington State in my opinion will always be a very competitive member of ANY conference,” Bennett tells Cougfan.com.
“The appeal that I learned from my experience there, and I think my son Tony would tell you the same… is that it’s such a wholesome, appealing place. You find that out once you’ve been there and once you’ve experienced it.”
Bennett said he couldn’t predict how things would shake out but he was confident WSU “will find a way” to remain both relevant and important to college athletics.
“I think Washington State will always represent what collegiate athletics is all about. I tried to talk my whole family into moving out there… I do think no matter what happens at Washington State they’re going to carve out a niche… it will remain attractive for the athletes who stay loyal and it will always have its place. Whether it will be part of a major TV package and such, I don’t know much about those things.”
Asked what kinds of moves he would be making if he were the president of Washington State, or the Pac-12 commissioner, Bennett said, “I don’t think like that. But I guess it’s a matter of pulling in a couple schools that work, or pull together something with the Big 12. There are some wonderful schools on the West Coast that have done well, San Diego State is one. But that’s a step I haven’t gone to in my mind … In the end, I think you just have to be a purist. I think schools like Washington State will always have a place. And I think you have to look at that side of it because I don’t think they have any control over what’s going to happen.”
From the archives: How Dick Bennett rebuilt Washington State basketball
Bennett said no matter how it all shakes out for WSU, he believes recruiting will be adversely affected with Southern Cal and UCLA leaving the conference.
“I honestly don’t know how it will all (wind up). I’m dismayed by the events of the last couple of years in college basketball and you could say college football too as well. There appears to be a move to go with the wealthiest conferences and that’s a sad state. I just feel so bad about it,” said Bennett.
Bennett said he’s always loved Big Ten football, having lived in Wisconsin most of his life. But he’s not celebrating the additions of USC and UCLA starting in 2024.
“I just worry about the other conferences that won’t have access to what is out there now,” he said. Ultimately, going after the cash windfall comes with a cost, says Bennett, and the Monopoly Money coming from the TV rights packages doesn’t make up for what goes by the wayside.
Commentary: Best path for UW and Oregon adds up for WSU
NOTICEABLE NOTES: Bennett said he believes the formula for WSU basketball success remains the same as when he and Tony were on the Palouse, though it’s been made more difficult with the explosion of the transfer portal. “I concluded, and shared it with my son, you have to pinpoint certain kinds of players. You have to get kids who want to stay there. Every now and then you’re going to run into a Klay Thompson who you sense is probably going to leave us early. But you’re just going to have to find those recruits who really want to be Cougars.”