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Sport: Washington coach embarrassed himself with weird line about Oregon's academics

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Washington football coach Jimmy Lake was asked if the Huskies had a recruiting rivalry with the Oregon Ducks. His answer raised eyebrows.

  Washington coach embarrassed himself with weird line about Oregon's academics © Provided by For The Win

Oregon (7-1) will face Washington (4-4) Nov. 6 at Husky Stadium in Seattle. Oregon and Washington finished with the top two recruiting classes in the Pac-12 in 2019 and then again in 2020, per 247Sports. A question about a recruiting rivalry is perfectly reasonable.

Lake, however, instead took a strange shot at the academic prestige of the University of Oregon:

“I think that is way more pumped up [by the media] than it is. Our battles are really … the schools that we go against are way more … have academic prowess — like the University of Washington. Notre Dame, Stanford, USC. We go with a lot of battles toe-to-toe all the way to the end with those schools. So I think that’s made up a lot and pumped up in your [media] world. In our world, we battle more academically prowess teams.”

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You can watch the full clip of the press conference here. His comments about the academics start around the 14-minute mark.

Based on recent history, Lake had no choice but to deflect the question. While recruiting had been neck and neck for a couple of years, the tide is quickly changing.

As noted by Kevin Wade, four players have de-committed since Lake took over as head coach. Two of those players committed to the University of Oregon.

This past season, Oregon finished with the top recruiting class in the conference for the third year in a row and the sixth-best in the nation. Washington’s class ranked sixth-best in the conference with only four recruits rated with at least four stars compared to Oregon’s nineteen. Their class ranked No. 36 in the nation.

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So far, Oregon’s 2022 recruiting class yet again ranks as the best in the conference and among the top ten in the nation. Washington’s, however, is now slated as the fourth-worst in the Pac-12 and falls outside the nation’s top 50.

With each university taking a different approach to name-image-likeness (NIL) policy, recruiting could continue to be a problem for the Huskies.

The state of Washington prohibits the university or its employees from facilitating introductions or deals between student-athletes and companions.

Alternatively, recruits may be drawn to the University of Oregon due to its close affiliation with Nike. The brand’s co-founder, Phil Knight, recently launched the NIL initiative Division Street to help student-athletes monetize on their name, image and likeness.

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When the National College Players Association released its Official NIL Ratings, Oregon trailed only New Mexico for the state with the most freedom for student-athletes to sign and negotiate NIL deals. Washington ranked last.

Meanwhile, Washington’s state attorney general also hasn’t made a ruling on whether student-athletes are permitted to make money off NFTs. Down in Eugene, however, Oregon football’s Kayvon Thibodeaux has already inked a six-figure NFT deal with Nike designer Tinker Hatfield. The defensive star launched his own cryptocurrency in September as well.

When it comes to recruiting, Oregon’s got Washington pretty clearly beat. So it’s not the nature of the deflection that deserves your attention. It’s what Lake said about academics that merits the most criticism.

First, let’s address the elephant in the room, which is the irony of the statement: Lake’s blatantly grammatically incorrect comment about “academically prowess” doesn’t show very much academic prowess.

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Prowess is an extraordinary ability. Someone can have athletic prowess (e.g., what the Ducks have shown when they’ve beaten the Huskies in fourteen of their last sixteen meetings) or academic prowess (e.g., when Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert was named the D-I Academic All-America Team Member of the Year in 2020 after graduating with a 4.01 GPA).

But you can’t have “academically prowess” because “academically” is an adverb, which describes a verb, and prowess is a noun and not a verb.

If you’re going to take a shot at the academic integrity of a rival institution, you have to at least make sure the grammar of the sentence is structurally sound.

Even if Lake were to take a jab at the academic prowess of Oregon, at its most generous reading, it’s a strange decision. Both institutions rank within the top 100 — but outside the top 50 — on the rankings for the best national universities, per USNews.com.

Even if Washington is ranked higher, collegiate rankings have long been problematic. As recently explained in this article on Forbes, such rankings are based on limited factors, don’t consider individual fit at each institution, and ignore that education is typically program-based and varied based on each program and major.

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Of course, both universities are considered excellent options for higher education depending on what student-athletes seek out of their college experience on and off the field. I believe quantifying as much would be a fool’s errand.

A less subjective evaluation, even if it just measures which team had the better football team on this particular Saturday, will be the number of points scored on the field when the two teams face off.

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