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Fresno may be off their maps

Chris Dufresne / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

September 25, 2008|Chris Dufresne

The folks at UCLA's appointments desk say their football schedule is booked through games of 2012 while USC's calendar was described as "jigsaw puzzle" complicated.

Why don't our schools just come out and say it: They're a little bit arrogant, a little bit elitist and maybe a little bit scared.

They don't mind Fresno State and its legions of Red Wave fans caravanning down here for a regular-season game. They don't mind cashing the entertainment dividend of Fresno State at USC in 2005, which turned out to be an instant classic.

Our teams will courageously tolerate Fresno State in neutral-site bowl agreements -- Freedom Bowl, Silicon Valley.

They'll even book Fresno State as a fill-in act.

The Bulldogs, playing UCLA at the Rose Bowl on Saturday, are a replacement for San Diego State, which opted out.

But getting our teams to board a charter pointed toward Fresno?

Well now, that sail might not fly over at the Newport Yacht Club.

And how could a Bruin stir his martini after 18 holes at Bel Air Country Club?

"Hey Thurston, how was that Denny's in Clovis?"

UCLA is 6-1 against Fresno State in games played since 1927.

All six wins were on the Bruins' home field. Fresno State scored its neutral-site win at the Silicon Valley Bowl.

USC is 1-1 all-time against Fresno State. The loss was in 1992, in the Freedom Bowl at Anaheim, a defeat so ignominious it took 12 years for the Trojans to even contemplate a rematch.

But what a rematch.

In 2005, in the cozy Coliseum confines, No. 1 USC white-knuckled home a 50-42 victory for the ages, after which 25,000 spent Fresno fans refilled their gas tanks and drove home.

The reason UCLA and USC won't agree to a home-and-home series with Fresno State is beyond obvious: They don't have to.

Our bluebloods can arrange games against higher-profile programs like Ohio State, Tennessee, Auburn. They can offer fans packages to more exotic locales.

UCLA even thought Utah and Brigham Young would be better places to entertain. . . . Oops.

Enticing UCLA and USC to come to Fresno?

"It's just hard enough getting a game at their place," a frustrated Fresno State Coach Pat Hill said this week.

How long, though, can you take without giving back?

Pete Carroll's motto at USC is "always compete."

Everywhere, apparently, except in Fresno.

"It's not that easy," Carroll said this week. "It's not just, 'OK, let's go do it,' because somebody challenges you or it's a good idea for somebody else. It just doesn't fit. Because the schedule has been made for years and years in advance . . . we can't do much about helping them schedule."

USC in future years is headed to Syracuse and Boston College. There are openings in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, but a spokesman said some of those dates are filled and only awaiting a signed contract.

UCLA doesn't have any openings through 2012.

"I don't have any problem playing at Fresno," first-year Bruins Coach Rick Neuheisel said.

OK, how about 2013?

Fresno State is willing to give two or three away games just to get one home game back, but so far nothing has worked out.

"I don't know why those aren't good games for those teams," Hill said.

It makes sense economically.

Why fly across country to Virginia, as USC did, when you can play a more competitive team in your home state?

"In a time when budgets are tough, and everything's a crisis, I think you'd make a lot more money and spend a lot less," Hill said.

Some states mandate that in-states schools play each other -- but we're pretty sure California's governor has more important issues to resolve.

"I think there's an advantage right now for some of the teams to play Fresno State," Hill said. "Everyone says they have nothing to gain and everything to lose. I don't really look at it that way."

Wisconsin proved it Sept. 13, when the Badgers earned a hard-fought win at Fresno State and moved up two spots in the polls.

Wisconsin, a big-time program from the Big Ten, took the risk and returned home to Madison with newfound national respect.

Oregon, another big-time program, has played in the San Joaquin Valley.

Hill spent years taking his program on the road in order to build up the Bulldogs' portfolio -- and it's finally paying dividends.

Fresno State has brokered deals to host one major-college conference school for five straight seasons starting in 2010.

Mississippi, Rutgers, Illinois, Colorado and Nebraska are all coming to town.

USC and UCLA, for now, and maybe forever, are not on the Fresno fight card.

"You never say never," said sports information director Marc Dellins, the man who books UCLA's schedule.

Some day, some year, shouldn't you say yes?

If this is a sport, wouldn't that be the sporting thing to do?

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