A GRIP ON SPORTS
Think about what sports would be without rivalries. Not nearly as much fun, huh? But what happens when your rival falls on hard times? Do you rejoice or do you mourn the lack of competition? Hah, who am I kidding. You rejoice, right? Read on.
• The thought about rivalries and hard times springs from today's Oregonian story on the Portland Winterhawks, who are currently serving a punishment from the Western Hockey League that has the potential to cripple the franchise in the future. Over the years, Tri-City held the hallowed spot as the Spokane Chiefs' top rival. But recently, whether it's due to their success on the ice or the contentiousness of the games, the Winterhawks have become the team Spokane fans hate the most. It doesn't matter who wears the Portland uniform, they have become the focus of the local fans' ire. Which is the basis of any good rivalry. But rivalries are best when both teams are well matched, which has also been the case the past few years. This season, the Hawks are really good – despite the sanctions that cost Portland its coach, the Winterhawks have just kept winning – and the Chiefs, currently on their long Eastern swing, are pretty darn good. Which makes for bad blood (and a good rivalry). But if the sanctions the WHL imposed for Portland's flaunting of the league's rules – the loss of the draft picks will probably have the most far-reaching consequences – cripple the Portland franchise, take them back to the depths the Hawks explored not that long ago, will the rivalry remain? Or will the focus shift back to Tri-City? Who knows, but I will make one prediction: Portland won't ever sink to bottom of the league again, not under the current ownership. No matter how depleted the roster, the Winterhawks will be, at worst, a decent WHL franchise. And, more than likely, the team Spokane fans love to hate.
• Washington State: The Gonzaga Bulldogs bring their top-10 national ranking and usual challenging game to Beasley tomorrow night, but that doesn't mean the Cougars aren't already focused on the matchup. Christian Caple has coach Ken Bone's thoughts on the matter, adds his morning post and passes along the news there are some pretty good seats available for the walk-up crowd for every game. ... A former Washington State football assistant – Robin Pflugrad (pictured) was in Pullman during the glory years early this century – is having trouble finding a new job. ... Bob Clark points out transfers are helping a lot of Pac-12 teams. ... Jon Wilner loves to out the homerism rife among college coaches who vote in the USA Today poll. ... Finally, has California become the latest school to become enamored of Boise State's Chris Peterson?
• Gonzaga: Wednesday game kicks off another tough December for GU, as Jim Meehan's story illustrates perfectly. ... The Kennel should be crowded tonight as the Zag women take on Eastern Washington. Chris Derrick has an advance. ... Robert Sacre is back with the Lakers.
• EWU: Success on the field has been translating into success off the field. Jim Allen's story explains how. ... Eagle basketball coach Jim Hayford was tight with Rick Majerus – he was the one who introduced me to Majerus after the coach had done color on a WSU game in Spokane – and he wanted to pass along his thoughts on Majerus' passing.
• Idaho: This probably could have been the lead item in today's post, though I'm not sure how much the hiring of Paul Petrino (above) excites the Idaho fan base (hence today's poll). Petrino, who comes from a famous football family, was introduced to those fans yesterday at a news conference. Josh Wright has this story and blog post on the event. What surprises me is how similar Petrino's resume is to three of the four coaches who preceded him: Tom Cable, Nick Holt (pictured) and Robb Akey. All were longtime coordinators making their first stab at being a head coach. And all but Akey, who had two decent years to start, struggled in the role from the get-go. We'll see whether it's the coaches that have been at fault or the circumstances in Moscow that have made it tough to win. I'm betting on the latter, especially considering the nomadic nature of the program right now. One thing is for sure. Petrino's hiring signals the Idaho administration is committed to its Quixotic tilting at the FBS windmill. And you know how I feel about that. ... The WAC handed out football awards yesterday, with two Vandals taking home honors, though Utah State and San Jose State were the big winners. Luckily, Louisiana Tech didn't hold out for higher awards and passed on the ones it won. ... Speaking of Utah State, the Aggies just missed an Orange Bowl bid, though I would contend their resume, despite two losses, was better than Northern Illinois'.
• Seahawks: If we learned anything from the past weekend, it's that the story lines heading into the game – the play of quarterback Russell Wilson, possible drug suspensions and injuries to a key member of the offensive line – will stay with us as the season wears downs.
• Mariners: The winter meetings are in full swing and the M's are still looking for bats. The quest for Mike Napoli came up short, but Jack Zduriencik has other ideas, and other players, he's still attempting to woo to Seattle. If there is one guy who should be worried about Zduriencik's moves, it would be Justin Smoak (pictured).
• The wind is blowing, the rain is pelting the windows and I had to try to entice a 17-week-old puppy outside to do its business. Good luck. Such are the chores for those of us who arise before 5 a.m. I gave up and passed the assignment up the chain of command (using work as an excuse). Kim got it done. Thank goodness. Until later ...