San Diego State and Nevada took the field Saturday night with a berth in the Mountain West championship game on the line.
SDSU’s 23-21 victory at Dignity Health Sports Park kept the No. 22 Aztecs (9-1, 5-1 MW) on track for reaching the Dec. 4 title game, which matches the conference’s winners from the Mountain and West divisions.
A victory in the Mountain West championship game would put the winner in the inaugural Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl.
And, in fact, for SDSU — dare the Aztecs dream — the potential would exist for a New Year’s Six bowl if the planets properly aligned.
How exciting and elevating that would be for the program.
Also it would avoid the unseemly situation SDSU could face if it doesn’t reach such heights — a potential berth in the Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl.
The Arizona Bowl is among five postseason bowls in which the Mountain West has a direct tie-in. The Arizona Bowl’s proximity to San Diego — making it an easy destination for Aztecs fans to reach — and the fact SDSU has never played in the game are two selling points for the bowl.
“A lot of things about the Arizona Bowl are really good,” SDSU AD John David Wicker said shortly before kickoff against Nevada.
What more and more people are questioning, however, is the Arizona Bowl’s choice of title sponsor.
Barstool was founded in 2003 by David Portnoy as a Boston print publication with a fantasy sports focus. It soon branched out to other sports- and life-related topics on the way to moving online four years later.
Barstool earned a reputation early on as misogynistic, coarse and racist.
“Sports/smut” is how Portnoy has described it.
In an interview in September with the Union-Tribune, Kym Adair, the Arizona Bowl’s executive director, said Barstool Sports has matured in recent years and “we felt like this was a company that was growing and evolving and we felt very comfortable aligning with them. …”
“They’ve evolved while still maintaining the authentic content that they like to put out,” said, “but also learning from things that they’ve done in the past and growing from them.”
That doesn’t necessarily square with, among others, SDSU.
“I would say that what they purport to be and who we are are two very different things,” Wicker said. “We’ll work with the conference to be in the appropriate place.
“We’ve definitely had some staff people that have voiced their very strong opinion that they do not in any way, shape or form appreciate what Barstool is. The way they talk about women and things like that. I would definitely have to agree with a lot of their sentiments.”
The Arizona Bowl signed a multi-year deal with Barstool four months ago and controversy over the deal had died down in the months since then.
But last week a story by Business Insider was published in which Portnoy was accused of sexual violence toward women.
Portnoy denied the claims on social media, calling the story a “slander piece,” amid profanity-laced responses to the story.
The Arizona Bowl put out a statement to the media in which it said it was “closely monitoring the situation.”
Not in the headlines, but also concerning, is how Barstool affiliates conduct themselves.
In the week leading up to SDSU’s Oct. 30 game against Fresno State, the Barstool affiliate covering Fresno State (@DogsBarstool) tweeted a crude reference to what Bulldogs quarterback Jake Haener and his teammates would do to SDSU.
“It will definitely be interesting to see how it plays out,” Wicker said.
Asked if SDSU would refuse to play in the Arizona Bowl if it came to that, Wicker said. “I can’t make a comment on a hypothetical at this point, so we’ll work through it as we get to it.
“The big thing is making sure we take care of our kids on the field and get them the opportunity appropriately and we’ll see where that goes.”