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Grandstanding Baumgartner wants Zags-Huskies for fame


In his self-assumed role as Zorro for higher education in Washington, Sen. Michael Baumgartner (R-Grandstanding) could be content with simply leading the charge for lower tuition in the war on college debt.

But he’s not just looking out for students who will be selling blood into their 90s to pay off all those loans they took out to enroll in Getting Dressed 101 or Medieval Syrupmaking.

He’s the guardian of good extra-curriculars, too.

So just hours before Gonzaga won yet another West Coast Conference basketball tournament, Sen. Bummer introduced Senate Bill 6583, which would mandate that the Zags and the University of Washington Huskies play each season.

And the first thought here was, “Amen, Senator.”

Oh, not for the bill. It’s beyond stupid.

But it strikes another blow in keeping politicians well ahead of the lowly sports writer on the public’s Scorn-o-Meter.

Before the news cycle was out, our man in Olympia was defending his bill to reporters and radio hosts with that familiar verbal smirk so endearing to the species. He might have been saying, “It is a big issue for the economy of our state,” but the between-the-lines message was clear:

I’m getting my name in the papers!

As the good name of the voters of Spokane who elected him takes another spatter of mud.

If you’ve somehow missed the last decade and a half of Zagmania, the Huskies and Bulldogs re-engaged in 1996 after not meeting for 13 seasons, and only occasionally before that. A healthy relationship between assistants on the two staffs got it done, and when the programs managed to get good at the same time, it was a terrific boost to college basketball in the Northwest.

Ah, but terrific undersells it, as Baumgartner sees it.

“No rivalry in college sports history,” he wrote in his bill, pausing between keystrokes to blow into a paper bag, “is as exciting and competitive as the battles between our state’s two premier basketball teams.”

Yes, that Duke-North Carolina business – so humdrum. Alabama-Auburn football – change the channel to HGTV, will you?

By the way, Mike, your Apple Cup seats have been moved. To the RV lot.

The series came to an end after 2007, derailed by two things. Gonzaga’s role in the NCAA slapping penalties on the Huskies for transgressions in the recruitment of eventual Zag forward Josh Heytvelt had strained relations – but not as much as the Bulldogs winning too much. The Huskies announced they wanted to pursue a more “national” schedule – which was pretty hilarious, in that Gonzaga would open the next season ranked 14th in the country. But they did go out and play people like Texas A&M, Syracuse and LSU, so at least there was some cover.

“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 told The Spokesman-Review’s Jim Camden.

A Washington State grad, the Bummer has no dog in this hunt – “I’m just a neutral Coug,” he said – and even less feel for the issue.

For one thing, the schools have had discussions about resuming the series for several years now, and may be getting closer. As much as we endorse transparency, public discourse is this issue’s Kryptonite. A couple years back, UW athletic director Scott Woodward announced it would be a jolly idea to play the games again at that grand neutral site of Key Arena, 10 minutes from his campus. Gonzaga coach Mark Few was quoted as saying the chances of that were “about the same as Bigfoot having my baby.”

So that really moved things along.

And Gonzaga AD Mike Roth confirmed that talks about resuming have been going on for years. Whether it’s Gonzaga-UW or Gonzaga-UCLA, the gestation period of these things can be brutal, given the needs and limitations of each school when it comes to scheduling.

“I don’t think there’s a ‘cold war’ at all,” Roth said. “Nobody at Gonzaga, and I don’t believe anyone at UW, has drawn a line in the sand to say we will not play. Those years we played it, they were great games on college campuses which is where those games should be played.”

Yes, they were and, yes, they should. But not for any reason Baumgartner cited.

“It’s big deal for the economy in Spokane when they play,” he gushed.

Yes, it’ll certainly allow Gonzaga to sell out its arena for a change. And think of all those Seattle fans who will travel here to watch the game at our sports bars.

Of course, he introduced this bill in the waning seconds of the session anyway, suggesting he definitely learned clock management at Wazzu.

Oh, and then there’s this. Baumgartner has been railing for some time now at the state’s high court for too much meddling in education funding policy, a job for the Legislature he believes.

“They are way out of their lane,” he sniffed last month.

And your three seconds in the lane are up, senator.


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