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Bill introduced to restart Gonzaga-Washington men’s basketball rivalry

OLYMPIA – State law would make the Huskies play the Zags in basketball every year under a proposal introduced Tuesday by a Spokane senator.

Considering there’s barely time left in the legislative session to negotiate a budget, getting a vote in both chambers on the merits of forced resumption of the Dawgs versus Bulldogs matchup is as likely as a No. 16 seed winning the NCAA tournament. But the bill’s sponsor, Republican Mike Baumgartner, said he wants to emphasize the advantages of a statewide rivalry, which was popular with fans when the teams played between 1998 and 2007.

During that period, Gonzaga University and the University of Washington alternated games between campuses each year and the Zags were up 8-2 when the Huskies opted out. Part of the reason reportedly was bad feelings over recruitment efforts for eventual Bulldog Josh Heytvelt, which garnered UW a sanction for recruiting violations.

UW suggested a three-game series in 2009, under the condition that all three games be played in Seattle’s KeyArena. At the time, GU coach Mark Few said he was fine with resuming the home-and-home series, but was no more interested in the UW offer than the Huskies would be in playing all games at the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena.

“If the Huskies are too scared to play GU of their own accord, the Legislature ought to pass a law to give them some courage,” Baumgartner said. His bill makes no mention of where the games would be played, he added, because the important part was to restart the rivalry.

“It benefits the entire state economically,” he said. “I’m just a neutral Coug in all of this.”

This is the second piece of legislative action in a week from Baumgartner that may have tweaked Husky fans. Last week he introduced a resolution, which passed the Senate, honoring the 1915 Washington State Cougars football team and declaring it the national champion for that year.

The Kansas state Senate has introduced a similar bill to require the University of Kansas and Wichita State University basketball teams to play each other. That bill hasn’t come up for a vote.

GU athletic director Mike Roth was noncommittal on the bill: “Gonzaga athletics does not get involved in anything in the political realm. That’s our official stand.”

UW spokesman Norm Arkans also wouldn’t bite, other than to say: “It’s a novel way to approach scheduling college basketball.”

Although the bill has little chance of passing, introducing a bill sometimes lets the Legislature send a message that forces people to focus on an issue, Baumgartner said. Asked whether the Legislature has better things to do with its time in the waning days of the session, he replied: “Yes, we do critical work like passing the official state oyster law.”

The Senate voted 48-1 Monday to approve the bill bestowing that designation on Ostrea lurida, or Olympia oyster. Baumgartner’s was the lone no vote.

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