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Monday, September 21, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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A Grip on Sports: Big Sky’s football decision leaves a hole in fall Saturday’s but may mean fans in stands come spring

Idaho quarterback Mason Perino (8) carries the ball during a game against Eastern Washington University on Sept. 21, 2019 at the Kibbie Dome in Moscow, Idaho.   (Libby Kamrowski/The Spokesman-Review)
Idaho quarterback Mason Perino (8) carries the ball during a game against Eastern Washington University on Sept. 21, 2019 at the Kibbie Dome in Moscow, Idaho.  (Libby Kamrowski/The Spokesman-Review)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • Saturday is the week’s best day, right? A day to sleep in, to forget about work, to put off whatever has to be done on the weekend until Sunday. It’s also the day college football comes into play in the fall. To paraphrase a college football legend, not so fast my Big Sky Conference-loving friends.

•••••••

• The conference officially pulled the plug on the conference season yesterday. The COVID-19 induced logistics for a conference with a footprint in eight western states and two time zones were just too much to overcome. Football, the front door for every university’s sports year, was shuffled out back, where baseball, track and softball reside.

Yes, it’s been a weird year.

But the Big Sky, dealing with way too many restrictions, and the lack of same, decided to give schools half a loaf. No conference games until February or so, but if you want to practice and play nonconference games in the fall, go right ahead.

In other words, we’re not going to tell you it’s unsafe to play. That’s someone else’s decision. We’re just unable to level the playing field, so we’ll hope things are better after the first of the year, there is more unanimity in thinking then, and we don’t want your local fans to get ticked of the high schools are playing and you’re not.

That is still a possibility in Utah, Arizona, Montana and Idaho, where seven of the 13 schools reside. The other six, in Washington, Oregon, California and Colorado, have their hands tied a bit more.

UC Davis and Cal Poly could begin playing under guidelines released yesterday by the State of California, but there would not be any fans. The expense of meeting the state’s current guidelines are pretty high as well. Pac-12 schools might be OK with the cost. Same with the Mountain West ones. But FCS schools just don’t have the budgets.

Besides, if games begin in March, there is a chance, albeit a small one, the pandemic will be under control enough to allow fans back in the stadiums. For Big Sky schools, this might make the difference between being able to afford football and not.

The conference’s choices were not good one. Playing eight games in the spring seems smarter than trying, and failing, to have a conference schedule starting next month. But the idea football players could practice and play until, say, mid-October, shut it down and wait until February to start up again, makes little sense.

Are they truly student/athletes or just athletes?

• Montana State coach Jeff Choate, the St. Maries High grad and one-time Post Falls High coach, believes colleges have answered that question this summer. And he’s not happy what that answer was.

Choate, who also coached at Washington State and Washington, went off in an interview with The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman, decrying the lack of NCAA leadership and how the organization has let itself be bullied by the Power 5 football conferences.

As Choate alludes to, schools in which football is all about money dominate the Power 5. The players? They are just another part of a complicated financial equation. The NCAA, with little or no control of the Power 5, but a need to keep those schools happy, has kowtowed to their whims.

It’s interesting to hear a college football coach say many things the rest of us have been harping upon for years.

•••

WSU: Around the Pac-12 and college sports, want to know why football in the Pac-12 will more than likely go on this fall? Jon Wilner gets to the heart of the matter with this column on the money football brings in to each school. … If the players are hesitant to risk their health so it can happen, quit giving them crud about it. … Of course the players are not completely united. … Colorado is using lots of technology to get ready for the season. … A Moscow High player has committed to Utah. … An FCS transfer should bolster the UCLA offensive line. … Chip Kelly and his wife survived a bout of COVID-19 in March. … In basketball news, Oregon State thinks it has added more than a shooter in Tariq Silver. … Hey, there’s baseball news. Oregon State has welcomed a former star back to help.

Gonzaga: Around the WCC, what’s next for Mark Pope and BYU?

EWU: Ryan Collingwood spent his day yesterday putting together this story on the Big Sky’s decision and how it impacts Eastern. … Elsewhere in the Big Sky, the football news opened up a box of questions and a thimble of answers. … While Idaho (see next section) may play fall nonconference games, its sister school in Pocatello won’t. … Montana’s players are happy there is at least a plan in place. … Montana State is waiting for more information. … There is disappointment at Weber State. … Other fall sports and their schedules are still to be determined. … Ed McCaffrey’s coaching debut at Northern Colorado will have to wait. … The Big Sky’s decision means the FCS playoffs are off this fall. Will some players look to transfer?

Idaho: The Vandals are one of the conference schools that may be able to play nonconference games this fall. Peter Harriman examines that and more in this story.

Preps: Though Oregon’s coaches aren’t happy football was moved to the spring, at least there is going to be a season. At this point anyway.

Golf: Washington’s junior association finished its tournament Friday with two local golfers earning state titles. Jim Meehan has all the results in this story. … Spent most of yesterday watching the PGA Championship from Harding Park in San Francisco. When the day was done, Haotong Li, originally from Shanghai but now living in Southern California, led. He is bidding to become the first Chinese-born golfer to win a men’s major. It would be appropriate for that accomplishment to occur in San Francisco, considering the city’s long-time connection to China. There is no doubt Northern California wouldn’t be what it is today without the sweat, blood and influence of Chinese immigrants throughout the past 180 years. The wealth of the area was built in large part due to their contributions.

Mariners: The M’s scored a few runs yesterday. But they didn’t have a chance against the Rockies. Not with the way the bullpen pitched. Colorado won 8-4. … Joey Gerber wasn’t part of debacle last night, but it’s still a good time to trace his path to the big leagues. … Nick Margevicius will make his first start for the Mariners today.

Seahawks: There was big news for the Hawks yesterday and it came from Florida. Prosecutors decided not to charge Quinton Dunbar in the armed robbery, saying there was insufficient evidence to support it. This doesn’t mean Dunbar will be at camp today, however. He still has to be reinstated by the NFL. … Can last year’s draft picks help this season? … The Hawks have yet to have a positive coronavirus test. Of course, they are in a bubble right now.

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• We have to sit down this afternoon and write a column about the Mariners for tomorrow’s newspaper. We know what we are going to write about, including the team’s leaky bullpen and Jarred Kelenic’s future, among other things. But exactly what we are going to say is still a mystery. It always is, until the research is done and my fingers start flying across the keyboard. While you are sitting in your backyard enjoying an adult beverage or riding hard among the mountain bike trails, I’ll be slaving away in my office, trying to keep the cat from adding a zzzyageysyey to every paragraph. Come to think of it, maybe I’ll let Stella write the darn thing. It couldn’t be less intelligible. Until later …

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