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A Grip on Sports: A few things happened yesterday which seem a bit unprecedented in these parts

Gonzaga men’s basketball coach Mark Few testifies before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transpor-tation on Wednesday in Washington, D.C.  (Orion Donovan-Smith / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga men’s basketball coach Mark Few testifies before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transpor-tation on Wednesday in Washington, D.C. (Orion Donovan-Smith / The Spokesman-Review)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • It’s an incredibly busy Thursday in the sports world. Or maybe that’s just me. You decide after getting through this morning’s column.

•••••••

• A handful of news events occurred yesterday with Gonzaga’s name attached to them. And none of them were things we would have ever anticipated say a decade or two ago. We would have considered them in the same realm of fantasy as, say, flying cars or an excellent Star Trek movie.

They were, in no particular order:

– Gonzaga’s basketball coach Mark Few testifying before a Senate committee about monetizing a college athlete’s name, image and likeness;

– One of the Zags’ recent basketball recruits, Chet Holmgren, being named the Gatorade national player of the year;

– A GU distance runner, James Mwaura, not only setting a school record in the 10,000 meters in the NCAA championships, but also qualifying for the Olympic trials while doing it.

It was part of a series of never-seen before happenings that impact our area. Included in that, in no particular order:

– The Greater Spokane League held its wrestling championships on June 9, outdoors at Union Stadium;

– The Big Sky Conference signed an agreement with ESPN to have the worldwide leader broadcast more than 600 events, which is going to make watching Eastern Washington, Idaho and their buddies online a little more expensive;

– Outgoing Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott wanted everyone to know all the problems the conference is dealing with – and his replacement George Kliavkoff faces when he takes over in July – are not his fault.

OK, we kid. That last one was not unprecedented. It was actually kind of expected.

• There is little doubt Secretariat is the greatest Thoroughbred horse of all time. We are not going to argue that point, not with all the records 1973’s  Triple Crown champion set. But that doesn’t mean the races that year were all that exciting.

Five years later, in 1978, Affirmed won the Triple Crown in a much more dramatic fashion. Mainly because his competition was better. Much better. Most every other year Alydar would have won the Triple Crown. Just not in 1978.

In the Kentucky Derby, Affirmed won by a length and a half. In the Preakness, Alydar drew closer but Affirmed triumphed by a neck. And then, on this date in ’78, the two dueled in what may have been the most exciting Belmont ever.

They reached the far turn together, far ahead of the rest of the field. The battled through the turn and down the stretch. Down to the wire they ran. Affirmed held off the Calumet Farm-bred Alydar by a head.

That Belmont 43 years ago still stands as my favorite of all-time. It was akin to a great heavyweight boxing match, with two dominate athletes whaling away at each other for what seemed like an eternity. Only one could win. The one with the bigger heart.

• One of our favorite events is going on this weekend in Eugene. The NCAA is holding its track and field championships at the all-new Hayward Field. The facility is magnificent, even if it doesn’t hold the tradition or have the ambiance of the old wooden place. The former will come as the years pass. The latter may not. It doesn’t matter. The United States needed a place like this, not only for the NCAA meet but also for the Olympic Trials and world events. A palace for track. And there is no better place for it than Eugene.

There will be surprises this weekend in the results. But one thing won’t be a surprise. It will rain. It did yesterday, it will off and on through Sunday. It wouldn’t be Eugene if it didn’t.

•••

WSU: Kirk Schulz is a fan of George Kliavkoff. He should be. The Washington State president helped select Kliavkoff to be the new conference commissioner. Schulz told Theo Lawson this week why he’s such a Kliavkoff fan and Theo tells us in this story. … One of Washington State’s all-time great track stars, Bernard Lagat, is now officially the head coach at Arizona.  … Elsewhere in the Pac-12 and college sports, Jon Wilner read through outgoing commissioner Larry Scott’s interview with the AP and has his thoughts. … Scott did have a couple of decent things to say, especially about expanding the football playoffs. … Can UCLA do enough in the fall to cool Chip Kelly’s seat? … Oregon has an unquestioned leader on defense. … On the basketball court, yes Mike Krzyzewski is a great college coach. One of the best. But not the best. That honor still resides with John Wooden. … Oregon State has added another transfer guard. … Colorado will be relying on a freshman. … Arizona has begun offseason workouts though many players will leave for U19 tryouts throughout the world. … In baseball news, it looks as if former Oregon State coach Pat Casey may be headed to LSU. That would seem weird except, you know, the Tigers have a lot of money to spend. … Arizona State may announce former Mariner Willie Bloomquist as its new coach any day now. … At the NCAA track and field meet, former Mt. Spokane High runner John Dressel ran a personal best in the 10,000-meter finals.

Gonzaga: We mentioned this above but watching Few speak before a Senate committee was a bit surreal yesterday. “Hey, I know that guy” coursed through my head. Our Orion Donovan-Smith has this story on Few’s appearance. He also has some photographs. … Jim Meehan takes over with the Holmgren news, which includes a lot of tidbits from Jalen Suggs. … Jim also has a story on another academic award for Corey Kispert and other GU players. … Larry Weir’s latest Press Box podcast was with Justin Reed. Yes, it’s about the Zags. … We mentioned Mwaura’s 10,000-meter finish above as well.

EWU: Pluto TV wasn’t the easiest place to find but when you did, you could watch Big Sky events for free. That’s over. As Ryan Collingwood explains in this piece, the conference’s deal with ESPN, featuring ESPN+ and the ESPN app, will bring in more money for each school and it will come out of the viewers’ pockets. … There is only one Eastern athlete at the NCAA track and field meet. Ryan introduces us to Morgan Fossen, who will compete in the pole vault.

Preps: It is also a busy morning with prep news, highlighted by Dave Nichols’ story on the wrestling championships. Mead won the 4A/3A and Othello took the 2A. … Dave also has a roundup of other action. … The GSL also held its gymnastics championship, with Ferris’ Maile Rocha the overall champion. Justin Reed has the story and Kathy Plonka a photo report. … Allie Janke, who will be at Arkansas next year, leaves North Central with a slew of records and a whole lot of admiration. Keenan Gray has the story.

Indians: Vancouver put away Spokane early Wednesday night at Avista, winning 10-2. Dan Thompson has the game coverage.

Mariners: Jarred Kelenic is in Tacoma. His first major league stint wasn’t the best. But he’s not defeated. At least he’s not talking like a guy who is defeated. … His replacement in left field made a spectacular game-saving catch last night and the M’s went on to a 9-6 11-inning win at Detroit. … If you have questions about the M’s, here are some answers.

Seahawks: Russell Wilson is back working out with the Hawks. Will he address the weird nature of the offseason? … Jordyn Brooks is trying to lock down a starting spot. … DK Metcalf. Bo Jackson. Similarities?

Storm: Seattle traveled to Georgia and won handily, defeating the Atlanta Dream 95-71.

•••       

• Root Sports is expanding its stable of broadcast rights. The cable channel, which is majority-owned by the Mariners, just picked up the Portland Trail Blazers for the next four years. One has to wonder if Root will have to add another channel, considering it also broadcasts the Kraken and, in this area at least, the Utah Jazz. But the big question is whether it will find a home on the major streaming services anytime soon. Until later …

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