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Originally published October 8, 2013 at 5:30 PM | Page modified October 9, 2013 at 2:46 AM

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Absolute truth is evasive when looking at college football’s ethical issues

Spat between Stanford coach David Shaw and UW coach Steve Sarkisian raises questions that are hard to answer.


Seattle Times college football reporter

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Typical Bud "the Coug" fashion... another hatchet job towards the Huskies. ... MORE
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Into a sea of sleepy verbiage — “the next game’s the biggest game” and “nameless, faceless opponents” — on Tuesday’s Pac-12 coaches teleconference, Stanford’s David Shaw stepped up, strapped an AK-47 to his shoulder and fired it in the direction of Washington coach Steve Sarkisian.

Figuratively, of course.

The controversy is about whether Stanford faked injuries in its 31-28 victory over Washington on Saturday night, and I had two immediate thoughts:

Stanford? Who gets into an argument with the nation’s future astrophysicists?

And second, it’s the 20th anniversary of a speaking engagement that Bill Walsh, the late, great, erudite one made in Sacramento when he was coaching Stanford. He accused the UW program of being populated by “mercenaries who have almost no contact with the rest of the student body. They have an athletic-department compound, and that’s where they spend their time.”

At least Washington could take it out on Stanford in its next game, and in Jim Lambright’s head-coaching debut in 1993, the Huskies got a big pound of flesh against Walsh. This week, while everybody is agog about the Shaw-Sarkisian snit, here comes Northern Arizona — no, wait — the Oregon Ducks, maybe underrated at No. 2 in the nation, the sleekest machine since the Lamborghini. And you have to believe the infidels south of the Columbia are having a good giggle over this diversion.

Clearly, we need some Shaw-Sark redemption.

This spat has the added ingredient of involving Randy Hart, who worked for 21 years on Washington staffs from Don James to Tyrone Willingham and everybody in between. Hart, who played guard for Woody Hayes at Ohio State, is as old-school as wooden goal posts, and if not beloved around here, at least highly respected.

Does that mean it’s impossible Hart could have been in on a scheme to have players fake injuries? Not necessarily, and that’s not to impugn Hart’s character.

Like a lot of things in sports, what’s ethical and what isn’t is at best blurry.

There’s a certain segment of the college-football world that views the warp-speed, no-huddle offenses like Washington is now running as an affront to the intent of the sport. They’ve gamed the system, or so goes the thought.

When Alabama coach Nick Saban came out a year ago and questioned that offensive approach, pointing to the issue of player safety, was he really more concerned about injuries or about a comfort level in playing the game the old-fashioned way? Said Saban, “I just think there’s got to be some sense of fairness in terms of asking, ‘Is this what we want football to be?’ ”

So if you’re in that camp, and you think you’re being flimflammed by offenses running 104 plays a game, is it a stretch to think you might also try to grab some traction by having a player catch a blow (along with his teammates) by dropping to all fours as long as the implications are vague?

Or is that a line not to be crossed? Where on that morality scale does it fall when Manu Ginobili takes a flop in an NBA game or a runner on second base intercepts a catcher’s signs for a teammate hitting?

For his part, when he alleged the Stanford tactics, Sarkisian said Washington would never do that. But I wouldn’t sit too straight on the moral high horse. Sarkisian hired Tosh Lupoi, who admitted to having California players fake injuries when he was there.

More to the point, when Lupoi was hired here in mid-January 2012 in the heat of recruiting season, he went from singing the praises of California one night to telling the same prospects the next what a mistake it would be if they chose anybody but Washington.

At Pac-12 media day in 2012, a San Francisco reporter asked Sarkisian flatly whether that was ethical. Sark answered to the effect that unfortunately, that was the way of the college-football world.

The absolutes are hard to define. Even as this brouhaha began heating up, old video was out there of ex-Stanford linebacker Chase Thomas, looking suspiciously injured against Oregon in 2010, when Jim Harbaugh was head coach and Shaw was an offensive assistant.

Meanwhile, on Oregon-Washington week, the debate sometimes bubbles up: Who’s a bigger UW rival, the Ducks or Cougars? Whatever your conclusion, save a little room for one more.

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com




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