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Thursday, September 19, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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A Grip on Sports: All the hot coffee in Seattle might not be enough to invigorate folks for a 9 a.m. college football kickoff

Washington State  head coach Mike Leach steals the show as he improvises to cool his drink during a Holiday Bowl press conference on Wednesday in San Diego. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Washington State head coach Mike Leach steals the show as he improvises to cool his drink during a Holiday Bowl press conference on Wednesday in San Diego. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • It’s early this morning. And yet, even though it is right around 6, it would be late for the Cougars if they were playing a 9 a.m. football game. You laugh, but we’re serious. As is Mike Leach.

•••••••

• If you follow college football at all, you know the Pac-12 is languishing a bit. OK, drop the “a bit.” The Conference of Champions, as it likes to be known, is anything but in football these days. There is a pecking order in the game, as in everything, and the Pac-12 is slotted in the bottom one or two of the so-called Power 5 conferences. It sort of all depends on how Oklahoma and Texas are doing that season whether Larry Scott’s charges are last or not.

Which means the Pac-12 gets the leftovers at the big boys’ table as it relates to national broadcasting windows. Sure, Mississippi State versus Kentucky is no prize, but the Goliaths of broadcasting are going to give pretty much any SEC game priority over the Pac-12. There is too much money being sent down South to do anything but.

Which brings us to all this talk of a 9 a.m. game.

Earlier this year Fox announced it was revamping how it shows college football. Making a big deal out of it. Building a new-look Saturday revolving around an 8 a.m. (Pacific) pregame show and the network’s most-touted game of the day kicking at 9 on television sets in Sacramento and San Diego and Medford.

That’s all well and good when the game is held in East Lansing or Boston. A noon kick is pretty much de rigueur these days east of the Mississippi. But out here in the hinterlands, that means the game would begin before it’s even social acceptable to chug a Bloody Mary.

At first glance you would think that would eliminate all but a couple of Pac-12 schools. But you would be wrong. You would be misjudging Scott’s pursuit of football exposure for his conference – and the almighty dollar.

Both are in play here.

When a game between Oregon and Washington State kicks at 7:30 p.m. in Eugene, that’s all well and good for those in attendance, even if the ride back to Portland doesn’t begin until after the late news is over. Usually such games have been filled with drama and blown calls, leading to the well-earned hashtag #Pac-12afterdark.

But it’s the old tree/forest conundrum. No matter how much noise it makes, if no one in New York or Miami is awake to see it, does it really make an impression in college football’s landscape? No matter how much happens, no matter how many highlights are churned out, it doesn't really matter. Fox and ESPN have already turned their hype machine toward the NFL.

A noon kick, though, would be perfect in that regard. Imagine if Gardner Minshew’s mustache had led last year’s Cougars to a last-second win over the Ducks in a game that ends at 3:30 p.m. in Bristol. As ESPN broadcasts the rest of its college football day, that spectacular – and imaginary – 87-yard touchdown pass/run by James Williams, off a play designed in the backseat of a ’57 Chevy, would be broadcast on every halftime and highlight show. The same play carrying the #Pac-12afterdark hashtag? You might see it on YouTube.

That’s the argument anyway. The real reason you’ll probably see it happen? Fox wants programming, interesting programming, to entice viewers all over the nation for its new game of the week. And who wouldn’t want to tune in at 10 a.m. in Los Angeles to watch an Arizona State receiver blow past a Trojan defensive back who fell asleep between plays? That would be a moment to remember, wouldn’t it?

It would also give credence to Leach’s biggest problem with the time change. Oh sure, he cares whether or not Bill from Deer Park and his two kids will be able to make the game but, honestly, that’s secondary.

On game days Leach is all about football and anything that detracts from that is going to earn his wrath – and a few comparisons to some historical event. They has to be some battle in ancient times that was decided because the defenders didn’t get enough sleep but I can’t think of it off the top of my head. I’m guessing Leach will.

He’s right, you know. We’ve asked college football players to play at so many odd times over the past couple decades, all in the name of raking in enough money to feed the athletic department beast (including, to be fair, over-inflated salaries for head coaches like Leach), the idea of getting them up a 4 or 4:30 in the morning to play on a Saturday doesn’t move the meter like it might have in 1992.

That’s wrong. It’s a sport. They are college kids. We’ve lost sight of that. Their existence shouldn’t be to entertain us, it should be about them enjoying that experience. How about we put them first again?

Oh, sorry. Lost my head there for a moment.

By all means, cater the games to the whims of the broadcast networks. I hear college football is really catching on in China. The Pac-12 is perfectly situated to exploit that market. A 7:30 p.m. start between Colorado and UCLA would be huge in Hong Kong. No big deal. I’m sure the Rose Bowl would be packed at 4 in the morning for the kickoff. China Central Television might even offer Larry Scott a couple million yuan for the effort.

•••

WSU: Leach’s thoughts about a possible 9 a.m. kick were about what you might expect. He shared them with our Theo Lawson and they are a part (not “apart” as you see all over social media) of this story. … Theo also has a story on the newest member of the Washington State home basketball radio crew. It’s a familiar name around these parts. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12, the defensive line seems to be the position of choice this morning. We can pass along stories from Oregon, Oregon State and Utah on that position group. … With UCLA about ready to begin preseason practice, we can pass along 10 things to know, divided in two stories. … There are also five things to know about Utah. … Arizona State is about to start its second season under Herm Edwards. … Colorado is about to start its first season under Mel Tucker. … Arizona is well into its preseason practice. … I know this is odd, but we found stories about Stanford and California football. … We also have a Utah basketball story to pass along. It’s about another transfer.

EWU: Larry Weir talked about the upcoming football season with a couple of Eagle players for the latest Press Box Pod. … Cooper Kupp’s return from injury is still big news in Los Angeles.

Idaho: Two Vandals, and an Eagle, were named to the STATS preseason FCS All-American team yesterday. Ryan Collingwood has all the particulars in this story.

Indians: Spokane ran into another top pitching prospect Tuesday night and fell, 2-0, at Eugene. … Elsewhere in the Northwest League, Everett fell at Hillsboro.

Mariners: The trade deadline is today. Mike Leake, who pitched last night in the M’s sixth consecutive win, and Domingo Santana are considered the two biggest names Seattle is dangling. … The newest Mariner joined the team and played yesterday. … Gene Warnick’s Out of Right Field recap is back.

Seahawks: The Hawks are counting on draft pick L.J. Collier to help a thin defensive line. He went down with an injury yesterday at practice. If he’s out any amount of time, that’s not good. … Training camp is for undrafted players to make an impact if they can.

•••       

• We usually don’t stray into the realm of politics, but we’re making an exception this morning. We found this story about Cory Booker, the New Jersey senator who is running for president. It’s not about that, per se. It’s more about his football career at Stanford and how that shaped his outlook on life. It illustrates a truism about college athletics. You don’t have to be a star to be a success. Until later …

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