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Sunday, October 20, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Grip on Sports: Coincidence or not, WCC changes seem to fit what Gonzaga wants

Gonzaga athletic director Mike Roth watches the Zags defeat South Dakota State from the tunnel area during the second half of a first-round NCAA  Tournament game on March 16, 2017,  in Salt Lake City. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga athletic director Mike Roth watches the Zags defeat South Dakota State from the tunnel area during the second half of a first-round NCAA Tournament game on March 16, 2017, in Salt Lake City. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • Do you believe in coincidence? Or do all things happen for a reason? If you are in the coincidence camp, some changes released yesterday from the West Coast Conference might cause you to change your view. Read on.

••••••••••

• Negotiating is an art. Or maybe it’s a game, like poker. Either way, it’s always best to come into it from a position of strength. Every professional athlete knows that. And Gonzaga athletic director Mike Roth does as well.

The West Coast Conference has been contemplating schedule changes and other basketball-related items for a while. More than a year, actually. But the discussions got down to the nitty-gritty recently.

It’s obvious Gonzaga wanted modifications. As the WCC’s top-dog, the Zags haven’t been all that happy with the state of some of their brethren’s basketball programs for years. Things had to improve.

So, as the conference was contemplating change, Gonzaga and the Mountain West Conference begin talking about the possibility of a switch. It stayed quiet for a while but last month the dalliance, surprisingly, became public.

The news didn’t seem to be leaked. Mountain West Conference commissioner Craig Thompson just flat-out acknowledged it to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

And Roth confirmed it with the S-R’s Jim Meehan. What are usually quiet, under-the-radar negotiations became front-page news up and down the West Coast the last month or so.

(BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe, when asked about the Union-Tribune story, which also mentioned the Cougars, said he wouldn’t comment and wondered why Thompson said anything publically.)

From then on, the possibility Gonzaga would leave the WCC loomed on the horizon, as the Mountain West seems, in theory at least, a viable home for all of GU’s sports, including basketball.

Randy Bennett, asked about the possibility the Bulldogs would bail, told ESPN at the WCC Tournament it would be a blow that he wasn’t sure the conference could absorb.

Not surprisingly, yesterday the WCC announced sweeping changes to the men’s basketball schedule, to the conference tournament, to nonconference games, to just about everything.

All of which seemed designed to please the Bulldogs.

Jim delves into the changes in great detail in his S-R story this morning. But a couple items jumped out to me.

The regular season will no longer be a true round robin. There will be 16 games, not 18. (Though, if Gonzaga were to leave, then a 16-game schedule would be a round-robin format for the nine teams left.) That change forces everyone to schedule two more nonconference foes at a time when nonconference games are becoming a bit harder to come by as the major conferences expand their conference schedules.

Not for GU, of course. The Zags are a major draw, are TV darlings and can schedule pretty good games with a minimum of effort. The rest of the conference, though, may have to work a bit harder, but if Loyola Marymount trades an annual 30-point defeat to the Zags for a three-point win over UC Riverside, that should, in theory, help its RPI.

And that’s what the schedule changes, at their heart, are about. Helping the lower end of the WCC improve its RPI. That in turn helps the conference-wide RPI and helps the top end, Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s and BYU, in their quest to make the NCAA Tournament.

Many of the changes, it seems, are aimed at helping the conference make and compete in the NCAA tourney. Heck, the discussions began, according to the WCC release, with a meeting with ESPN bracket predictor Joe Lunardi, so the baseline was established with the NCAAs in mind.

So the WCC has made changes that Gonzaga seems happy with. Would they all have happened if the Mountain West discussions hadn’t been initiated, or if they hadn’t become public?

We will never know.

But it’s safe to assume the dalliance didn’t hurt GU’s negotiating position. Then again, when you are holding four aces every pot, it’s pretty easy to make the other players fold.

•••

WSU: Robert Franks dropped the news he was entering the NBA draft yesterday, posting a statement on Twitter about four hours before Washington State issued a release. Franks, the Pac-12’s most improved player in 2017-18, would be a key element of the Cougars next season – if he were to return. Will he or won’t he hire an agent, which would ensure he wouldn’t be back? Franks’ Twitter statement could be interpreted to mean he has intentions of signing one. The WSU release emphasized he hasn’t as of yet. The decision will be crucial for Ernie Kent’s program. Theo Lawson delves into all that in greater detail in this story. … Theo also has a couple football-related stories. The Cougars have agreed to meet Idaho again, this time in 2025. The game will be at Martin Stadium, of course, and WSU will play the Vandals $625,000. … A junior college punter has decided to join Mike Leach’s squad this fall. … By the way, Rick Lukens and I talked with incoming quarterback Gardner Minshew yesterday for about 20 minutes. He’s an impressive young man who comes into Pullman with his eyes wide open. If he can play quarterback as well as he can articulate his goals, the Cougars are going to be OK at the position. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12, one of the longest-tenured athletic directors in the conference is retiring. Utah’s Chris Hill will step down this summer. … Spring football is still the top news item around the conference from Utah to Arizona to Washington. … California’s basketball season was disappointing for its first-year head coach. … UCLA's best player is headed to the NBA.

Gonzaga: Besides the WCC news we linked above, Jim has a story on David Stockton signing another 10-day contract with the Utah Jazz. There is more coverage of Stockton in the Salt Lake papers. … Larry Weir has a Press Box pod on the WCC news. … USF won the opener in the CTI’s three-game final. … BYU’s Yoeli Childs will put his name in the NBA draft pool but not hire an agent. … The WCC changes were covered up and down the coast.

EWU: Bogdan Bliznyuk will represent Eastern one more time. The forward will compete in the college all-star game this weekend. Jim Allen has the story.

Idaho: The Spokane regional, hosted by the Vandals, pitted the top two seeds in the final game, with a Final Four berth on the line. The seeding committee got it right, as top-seeded Notre Dame pulled away from two-seed Oregon in the second half and won, 84-74. Jim Allen has the game story, Greg Lee has more in this piece and Tyler Tjomsland has a photo report. … There is other coverage of the game from Eugene and Portland.

Preps: We can pass along roundups in baseball and softball

Mariners: James Paxton may not be starting opening day, but he’s the best the M’s have right now. … The Mariners are probably not going to end their playoff drought this season. … Just making the opening day roster is special to some players. … The M’s won yesterday.

Seahawks: If you were worried about the Los Angeles Rams building a shutdown defense this offseason, you were not alone. A signing yesterday only strengthened that. But maybe there will be so many personality problems it will fall apart. … Michael Bennett turned himself in yesterday. … John Schneider spoke Monday. … Jeremy Lane did a bit of bargaining concerning his arrest in January. … Do you remember watching the Kingdome come down?

•••       

• We are back on the radio today with Rick Lukens, filling in for Dennis Patchin. You can listen here from 3 to 6 p.m. if you want. Until later …

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