A GRIP ON SPORTS
Remember when you were a little kid and there was a word you could say that would really set mom or dad off? Just uttering it would earn a trip to bathroom (for soapy mouthwash) or the corner (for a little alone time). Well, there are a couple words like that for Mark Few. Just uttering them around the Gonzaga coach can earn a look of disdain. We won't risk Dial on the tongue here, but will on the link. Read on.
• I'm pretty sure you know the words. Mid and major, usually seen in tandem separated by a hyphen. The term was coined a few years back to describe basketball schools who didn't have all the financial advantages their football-playing counterparts had but competed with them during the season and, most importantly, during the NCAA tournament. At the end of last century, Gonzaga was the first of the mid-major crowd to rise above the designation and consistently earn success in March. And that was the rub for Few. After appearing in five, six, seven consecutive NCAA tournaments, after winning a like number of consecutive West Coast Conference titles, after posting win after win over BCS schools, Few decided the label was outdated and derogatory. He didn't want it uttered around McCarthey any more. OK, we get it. Just like we get why ESPN's Andy Katz would write this blog post decrying the term, especially when it's used for schools like Gonzaga and today's opponent in Indianapolis, Butler. (Though why Katz had to use Washington State as his first example of schools in football power conferences that are basketball-challenged is beyond me; for a guy who used to visit, hug Tony and Laurel Bennett a bit too long for my tastes and sing Pullman's praises, it seemed like a cheap shot.) But I've arisen on my very small soapbox to praise the term, not bury it. Why buck a trend? Mainly because I'm a bit of a contrarian – and I like what the term represents. Mainly, rising above expectations.
• Really, it was not all that long ago Gonzaga experienced years as a low-major basketball school. Not quite Division II but not able to compete with the big boys either. I know a lot of people who pack McCarthey now may not remember it (or believe it), but there was a time in the not-so-distant past when a ticket to a Gonzaga game could be had for free (that's how I could afford to go). When a coach would flee the place for Loyola Marymount because the pay – and future opportunity – seemed better. When the games actually weren't even carried on the front page of the local newspaper consistently, let alone TV. But a few people had a vision of more. Dan Fitzgerald. Father Robert Spitzer. And a bunch of young assistants who bought into the whole hope thing, when mid-major was something to aspire to. Mark Few was one of those guys. And the only one who spent his entire career at GU, from the days of empty bleachers in the old Kennel to these days, when charter flights, sold-out crowds and national television exposure is old hat. He, along with countless others behind the scenes and a bunch of passionate young men on the court, built it. So he has earned the right to bristle when someone uses the term mid-major and applies it to his program. But think about this. Gonzaga is where it is without the help of the millions of dollars football contributes to the athletic coffers at the major schools. And Gonzaga ascended to where it is without the nightly exposure ESPN gave the non-football-playing – ya, I know some of them play football, but not to the level we're talking about here – Catholic schools of the Big East, back when they were building their reputation and programs. It's an accomplishment of consistency rarely matched through the years. And that's my point. In my 12 years of Catholic education (and the corresponding years of catechism, ethics and religious studies) one thing I learned was to respect the past. To celebrate it. Sometimes to even live it, what with Latin masses and the like. And the term mid-major is part of GU's past. Heck, it may have even been invented by the nation's sporting intelligentsia to describe the Zags. Yes, Gonzaga has transcended the term. But let's not bury it. Let it remind us how far the school from Spo-KANE has traveled.
• Washington State: The Cougars face another team today that needs a win in the worst way: Colorado. The Buffs are 1-4 in the Pac-12, not what many people thought would be the case for the defending conference tournament champions. Christian Caple has a short advance in today's paper, along with a feature on former WSU star Klay Thompson, now plying his trade in the NBA. Christian also had a blog post yesterday on an officially announced football coaching hire, a story on the hire and this morning's post. … We like to pass along ESPN.com's mailbag on Saturday mornings, so we will.
• Gonzaga: The matchup with 13th-ranked Butler today is the first time two top-15 schools (GU is ranked eighth) have met in the storied history of Butler's Hinkle Fieldhouse (pictured). Jim Meehan is there and has an advance of the game, which will be on ESPN tonight. … There are other advances, of course, including this one from Bud Withers, one from the Indianapolis Star and some stats from ESPN. … Jim traveled to Indiana yesterday but took time to put together a day-after blog post on the Portland game. … Now that BYU has a conference loss, it will have to try to bounce back at home against the conference leader. No, not that leader. The Zags are in Indiana, remember. We're talking about USD, coached by Billy Grier, another of those young assistants who bought into the hope thing with GU years ago.
• EWU: Though the Eagles lost in North Dakota, coach Jim Hayford is counting his blessings after two players were only slightly injured in an auto accident. Jim Allen has a story on that and also advances tonight's game at Northern Colorado. … Weber State will try to stay hot.
• Idaho: The Vandals need to bounce back after a tough road loss at Louisiana Tech, which is atop the conference with Denver, which hosts Utah State tonight.
• Chiefs: On a night when Portland's 14-game winning streak was snapped, the Chiefs couldn't pick up ground against Kelowna. Chris Derrick was in the Arena and filed this story and blog post. … Tri-City not only lost a game, the Americans lost their goaltender for the season as well. … Seattle's losing streak has reached 15.
• Preps: The battle for GSL 3A supremacy was part of the storyline last night when Greg Lee watched U-Hi overcome Mt. Spokane in boys action. We also have a GSL girls roundup, along with girls and boys roundups from around the Inland Northwest.
• Seahawks: Winning teams lose front-office personnel. That's a given in the NFL. It happened to Seattle yesterday.
• That's it for me this Saturday morning. We avoided the Lance Armstrong and Manto Te'o debacles, mainly because I always hated soap operas. Expect when I was playing college baseball and we would spend the stretching time before practice parsing every aspect of “All My Children.” But that's another story for another time. Until later …