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A Grip on Sports: The Pac-12 moves forward, Spokane County basketball is recognized and the passing of a friend dominates the news

In this Oct. 8, 2019, file photo, Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott speaks during the conference’s college basketball media day in San Francisco. (D. Ross Cameron / AP)
In this Oct. 8, 2019, file photo, Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott speaks during the conference’s college basketball media day in San Francisco. (D. Ross Cameron / AP)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • It is obvious the holiday weekend is so far behind us, we can’t even see it in the rearview mirror. How do we know? Things happened in the world of sports yesterday. Lots of things.

•••••••

• Maybe the most critical of the happenings came from the Pac-12 Conference. It announced Tuesday it would allow its athletes to return to campus of “voluntary” workouts starting June 15.

(We put “voluntary” in quotes because, in our formerly normal times, if an athlete didn’t show up, they were not long for the roster. Maybe in these times of the coronavirus, coaches will be a bit more lenient and the decision really will be up to the athlete.)

The conference didn’t just tell its member schools, however, to get started. It attached a whole bunch of criteria and caveats to the date, including the appropriate one of following local guidelines. And then there are precautions and limits of the phased schedule for athletic workouts.

All of which makes perfect sense, especially if you are paying attention to the Spokane County news. A recent COVID-19 outbreak at a pasta factory has sickened nearly 50 people (as of May 26) and has tossed ripples into the community that have reached the police department and the county jail. Heck, most of the folks with the virus in this case didn’t even know they had it.

Such a thing could happen within an athletic department and, though it’s possible few if any athletes would become sick to such a degree they have to be hospitalized, the tentacles of the disease could reach throughout the community. And in a community like Pullman, that could be disastrous. It’s such an outbreak the conference’s protocols are designed to avoid.

If it’s possible.

As more and more research emerges, tracing the epidemiology of the disease, it becomes clearer long exposure in indoor facilities facilitates the disease’s spread. Almost all of the conference’s guidelines seemed aimed at limiting that exposure.

Good for the Pac-12. If it is safely possible to have fall collegiate sports, the Pac-12 will find it. If it isn’t, will the conference have the courage and financial security to admit it? Let’s hope we never find out.

• There was some sort of mixup at the Spokane County offices yesterday and it had to do with basketball. It was a tempest in a coffee carafe, but it involved a draft proclamation that was treated as if it were final, a Whitworth news release and some social media sniping.

The county commissioners ended up honoring five basketball teams within their boundaries, the Gonzaga men and women, the Eastern Washington men, the Whitworth men and the Central Valley girls. All won championships this year, even with the abbreviated nature of the basketball season.

The mixup involved the possibility of naming one countywide team for recognition. We all know that will never happen, not when, to paraphrase Michael Jordan, Gonzaga fans vote too.

But let’s put that aside and look at one odd fact. The three four-year men’s programs in this county were a combined 77-16 in 2019-20. That’s an 82.8 winning percentage. I challenge anyone to find another county in this nation with three four-year men’s teams and a higher winning percentage. It’s not going to happen.

And it’s not a fluke. Over the past 10 years, Whitworth has the highest winning percentage among Division III schools and Gonzaga has the highest among Division I. Only two Division II schools have better winning percentages than GU and Whitworth in the past decade. This area is truly the most successful in college men’s hoops in the recent past.

• It seems as if every day someone we have a connection with passes. It’s not that way, sure, but there have been enough to make is feel as if it’s true.

Yesterday we learned of the death of a former colleague. More of a competitor, actually, but one we’ve kept up with over the years.

Chris Dufresne grew up in Southern California, had a father who worked in circulation at the Los Angeles Times and always wanted to be a sportswriter.

His dad, a truck driver for the Times who delivered bound sections of the paper to far-flung distributors, crossed paths many times with my father, one of those distributors (called dealers by the Times). In fact, they had a run in or two over the years, something Chris and I laughed about as we reconnected in our 50s.

See, Chris and my path connected in the early 1980s in Orange County. After graduating from Cal State Fullerton, he started working in the Times’ OC bureau. I was working at the OC Register, the competitor.

(The Monday after I graduated from UC Irvine a couple years earlier, I had started working at the Times’ downtown bureau as a copy boy, the lowest rung in the newsroom. It didn’t take and after a winding road, I ended up at the Register.) 

The two sports departments had a heated rivalry in print and a not-so-heated rivalry on the court or fields. We played basketball together at noon almost every Friday. We occasionally met in flag football and softball games (and were teammates in a once-a-year baseball battle with the Angels’ support staff at Anaheim Stadium). The only things on the line were bragging rights, but those can be important.

So important that one football game came down to contested pass interference call that featured yours truly at defensive back and Chris trying to catch a fourth-down pass. The Times’ guys, including Chris, whined loud enough to win the argument – despite the obvious righteousness of our position.

(OK, I interfered. It was clear. I got there early. Sure, I argued. But it was the right call.)

We lost the game.

Chris, who took a buyout from the Times in 2015 and started a college football website with some old friends, and I had other connections as well.

His wife, Sheila, was a Young, as in Matt Young, the former Mariner pitcher. She, and the rest of the Youngs, were also neighbors of mine growing up. As you probably know, I caught Matt in high school.

When Chris and I reconnected while I was covering the Cougars about 15 years ago, the stories flowed fast and furious. Some were even close to the truth. But our shared background made that easy. Though our paths were different, we had many of the same touchstones in our life.

We stayed connected recently through social media, a fine way to bridge miles between old acquaintances. And a fun way as well. When you share a small history with someone, it is easy to find subjects to laugh about.

It’s sad to think that won’t happen anymore.

•••

WSU: Our Theo Lawson examines the possible opening of facilities. … He also passes along the news Kyle Manzardo, a Lake City High graduate, was named a third-team All-American by Collegiate Baseball. … Larry Weir is back. He took last week off, but he returns with a conversation with Theo about football in the fall. It’s part of his latest Press Box podcast. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12 and college football, though schools are reopening their facilities, the television networks are proceeding with caution. It’s sort of a mixed message. … Oregon seems just fine at one safety spot. … Anthony Coleman left Arizona State for Colorado last season. Now the basketball assistant is headed back to Tempe. Won’t he have to sit out a year? Just kidding. Of course not. … Utah lost a lot from its defense, but two returning starters are setting a tone. … The pandemic has made life tough on athletes from overseas. … Is running back an essential part of USC’s offense anymore?

Gonzaga: The Zags have attracted some outstanding athletes in the past. Jeremy Pargo and Demetri Goodson come quickly to mind. But none entered Gonzaga with the accolade Jalen Suggs will bring with him. He was named MaxPreps’ Male Athlete of the Year, an award that encompasses all sports, not just hoops. Jim Meehan has all the details in this story. … Jim Allen passes along the news that broke over the weekend. The Zag women received another commitment from a 2021 player.

EWU: Shantay Legan’s staff will undergo its first alteration this fall. Former associate head coach Nick Booker is leaving for UC San Diego. Ryan Collingwood has more in this story, including the family reason that seems to be behind the decision.

Whitworth: We linked Rebecca White’s story about Spokane County’s proclamation above, but we also add a link here.

Preps: This would have been the week Washington high school golfers took to the links for the State tournament. Instead, they had to settle for a tournament Tuesday at Circling Raven. Jim Meehan was there and has this coverage.

Boxing: When the lockdown began, someone broke into Spokane Boxing and stole gloves and other items, while also damaging equipment. But as Ryan tells us, an anonymous donor’s largesse and some elbow grease will allow the gym to reopen this week.

Seahawks: What will Carlos Hyde bring to the Hawks’ running game? … Seattle athletes, including Russell Wilson, will be hosting the ESPYS.

•••       

• Today seemed more like a “normal” Wednesday than one in the midst of a pandemic. That’s a positive. Until later …

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