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Friday, July 3, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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A Grip on Sports: Every local school’s athletic department is dealing with intangibles that go beyond their financial issues

Roos Field, the football venue of Eastern Washington University Eagles, shown in 2017. Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW  (JESSE TINSLEY)
Roos Field, the football venue of Eastern Washington University Eagles, shown in 2017. Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW (JESSE TINSLEY)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • Money is tight everywhere. And it’s going to remain tight for the foreseeable future. That future isn’t all that foreseeable right now, however.

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• The impetus for these thoughts come from Cheney, where Eastern Washington University is grappling with revenue losses across the board. It’s not just athletics, as Chad Sokol’s story in today’s S-R shows, but, as with anything else, athletics are front and center.

The Eagles will try to stay competitive in the Big Sky after lopping off 30 percent from every budget, a number found in Ryan Collingwood’s piece on the department cuts. Football? Yep. Basketball? Yes sir. Administration. Sure. A school that already operates at a financial disadvantage to some other schools in their league, will try to keep up as the gap grows wider.

Funny thing, though. No one really knows how big the cuts really have to be. At any school.

What if the Eagles play football this season, but lose their game at Florida and the six-figure guarantee that comes with it? Or if games have to be played with empty stands at Roos Field? Will 30 percent be enough then?

The same can be said for Washington State, Idaho and Gonzaga – though the Bulldogs, not dependent on football, have a bit more leeway with time than the schools that are trying to present athletic events in September.

And, as the recent financial discussions campus-wide at Eastern have shown, whatever financial issues the school as a whole has will impact how the athletic department has to proceed.

If WSU isn’t able to welcome students to campus or, in an even more disruptive scenario, have to send them home after a COVID-19 outbreak, than every contingency envisioned up to then will have to be shredded. Plan D, E or F might have to be implemented.

What a mess.

It would be eye-opening, I’m sure, to spend a day with Pat Chun or Lynn Hickey or any of their peers as they navigate the fiscal minefields dropped by the coronavirus. It probably includes some Sugar Ray Leonard-worthy bobbing and weaving, as blows rain from every piece of paper entering the office.

Testing has to be thorough and accurate. How do we pay for that? If someone comes up positive, they must be quarantined. What budget covers that? No concessions sales. How big a hit will that be? Extra security will be needed to ensure the fans in a half-full stadium don’t bunch up. What’s the cost?

And, knowing many athletic department employees as I do, at a variety of schools, the financial decisions are not the biggest of their worries. Foremost in their minds is the health of the students in their charge. That’s why they are on campus in the first place. They like the college life and they feel a calling to work with college-age students. They care. They want everyone to stay safe. And there has to be some uncertainty in how to accomplish that.

This can’t be the summer any of them imagined while hunkered down in January, trying to get around campus as the snow piled up. But it is the summer they were handed. And the challenge they have to overcome. It’s not going to be easy.

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Gonzaga: The Basketball Tournament is about to return to the national scene, but it is interesting how many local products will be playing. A lot of that revolves around the Zags, of course, as Jim Meehan quantifies in this story. But there are others in the tournament with ties to the Inland Northwest. Some played here in high school and college, others stopped by for a while as collegians. … The tourney, being held in what amounts to a bubble in Columbus, Ohio, should help the NBA figure out how to deal with this whole virus issue. … Speaking of Jim, he spoke with Larry Weir yesterday for the latest Press Box podcast.

WSU: The Cougars continue to add commits to their 2021 football recruiting class, with Nick Rolovich waving the flag yesterday on Twitter. The latest is a cornerback from California. Theo Lawson has more in this story. … Former Washington State golf standout Derek Bayley, who attended Lakeland High, won the recent Reno Open, which earns him an exemption to a PGA tournament in late July. Jim has more in this story. … The Warriors expect Klay Thompson to return as good as new. … Around the Pac-12 and college sports, conference fans shared more memories with Jon Wilner. … A bad ACL injury hasn't stopped one Washington player. … A former Husky has emerged from the depths of addiction and depression. … Oregon has decided not to announce if any of its athletes suffer from the coronavirus. No, not individual names. The school won’t even say if anyone has it. …A couple Ducks were named to preseason All-American teams. … Oregon State’s offensive line has some huge holes to fill. … Colorado’s football players are leaning on each other. Hopefully, they mean that figuratively. … Utah has been doing OK in football since joining the Pac-12.

EWU: Yes, budget cuts are coming to Eastern Washington University. Eight percent or more will have to excised from the university’s overall budget – Chad describes that process in this story, also linked above – and as much as 30 percent from the athletic department. In other words, the Eagles are doing their fair share and more. Ryan has this explanation of what the athletic cuts might mean. … EWU athletic director Lynn Hickey joined Larry on Wednesday for a Press Box pod I forgot to link. Sorry.

Preps: It’s awards season, beginning with the biggest ones in the area, the Spokane Youth Sports Awards. There is no banquet this year but Dave Nichols has all the finalists listed right here. The awards will be announced tonight on SWX. … North Central’s Allie Janke is up for one of those awards but has already been named the Gatorade girls track athlete of the year for Washington. That information leads off Dave’s notebook.

Chiefs: The pandemic not only ended Spokane’s season, it has put on hold many player’s plans for life after the WHL. Dan Thompson takes a look at what’s been happening in the past few months.

Mariners: The M’s signed their three of their draft picks, including their top one.

Seahawks: There will not be a Hall of Fame Game or induction this summer. Everything has been put off for a year.

Sounders: Will Bruin is injured. Again. But he expects to be back mid-July.

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• So, is the new name for Key Arena, announced yesterday, just about the most Seattle thing you’ve ever heard? Climate Pledge Arena. I’m surprised there isn’t a “Delivered by Amazon” added on the end of it. Wait a few years. Until later …

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