Tests in store for Cal on and off the field 

click to enlarge Zach Maynard will lead the Bears into hostile territory as Cal travels to Oregon just as the student-athletes are hitting midterms. (Getty Images file photo) - ZACH MAYNARD WILL LEAD THE BEARS INTO HOSTILE TERRITORY AS CAL TRAVELS TO OREGON JUST AS THE STUDENT-ATHLETES ARE HITTING MIDTERMS. (GETTY IMAGES FILE PHOTO)
  • Zach Maynard will lead the Bears into hostile territory as Cal travels to Oregon just as the student-athletes are hitting midterms. (Getty Images file photo)
  • Zach Maynard will lead the Bears into hostile territory as Cal travels to Oregon just as the student-athletes are hitting midterms. (Getty Images file photo)

As if playing at Autzen Stadium against No. 9 Oregon weren’t difficult enough, Cal is heading to Eugene, Ore., for Thursday night’s nationally televised game smack in the middle of midterms. Meanwhile, the Ducks just began their fall classes last week.

It’s noteworthy because football players at universities operating on the quarterly academic calendar spend weeks in training camps without ever having to open a school book.

Cal and Oregon both started preseason practice on Aug. 7. But, not only do Cal players have tougher academic demands, with UC Berkeley on the semester system, the Golden Bears had just 11 days of football-only activities before classes began. The Ducks had seven weeks. You think that would have a bearing on how proficient your team is at the start of the season? You’d never see such a disparity in preparation time in the NFL.

The Pac-12 could easily level the playing field. Schedule early season conference games among schools on the quarter system: Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, Washington and UCLA, while matching up universities on the semester calendar: Cal, USC, Arizona, Arizona State, Washington State, Utah and Colorado. Of course, when bowl games arrive in mid-December, just days after finals week at most schools, universities just take the money and run. Catch up on school work on your own time, kid.

Harbaugh a ‘coach’ guy

It all sounded so folksy when Jim Harbaugh said he’s a “coach” guy after giving up his first-class seat on the 49ers flight home from Philadelphia to mingle with the players. Is that the same “blue collar” Harbaugh who had a $70,000 designer bathroom installed at his Stanford office in 2009 (courtesy of the ever benevolent John Arrillaga) while the Cardinal was eliminating more than a dozen jobs in the athletic department? Or the same “Huck Finn” Jim hawking luxury cars on the radio?

By the way, Harbaugh’s mentor Bill Walsh, a great student of military history regularly walked the aisle of the team plane to talk with the troops. Walsh would nod and smile to his “men” like a triumphant general returning from battle. Unlike his protege, the legendary Hall of Famer didn’t try to mask his imperial ways.

When I traveled as a reporter with the 49ers (1984-86) the team charter always had Walsh’s private stock of champagne on ice for the trip home. But, he never clinked glasses with the players.

Harbaugh’s unabashed enthusiasm after the amazing come from behind victory against the Philadelphia Eagles is understandable. But with upcoming road trips to face dangerous teams in Detroit and Baltimore, the rookie coach would be wise to show some restraint. He’s not on the Farm anymore and he’s not one of the boys.

KGO (810 AM) Sports Director Rich Walcoff can be heard weekdays from 5 to 9 a.m. on the KGO morning news. He can be reached at RichWalcoff@gmail.com.

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