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A Grip on Sports: This year’s World Cup should be fun but may not be as interesting as the runup

A GRIP ON SPORTS • You may not know it, but we are about to enjoy a historic weekend. The reasons for that are varied, but they include one you may never thought would happen.

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• The World Cup begins Sunday. That, in itself, is not unusual. After all, the world’s most popular sport holds its premier event every four years, like the Olympics. But this one is special, if that’s the right word.

It’s happening in the late fall. In Qatar, a tiny nation in the middle of the most volatile region of the world, the Middle East. A country run by an autocrat with supreme authority. A country that wants to show off its special nature to the world. A country which thinks a contract is just a suggestion.

Think soccer. Think soccer fans. Think sobriety. One of those things doesn’t seem to fit, does it. But that’s what is going to happen, even though Qatar, despite being a strict Muslim nation that isn’t supposed to condone alcohol, agreed to allow beer sales in the stadiums when it earned the right to host a dozen years ago.

Today, that agreement was seemingly declared null and void. Not a big deal, right? But it is symbolic. What if the government decides a red card issued to a Qatar player should be null and void? Will it tell FIFA to make a change or get out? Who knows? That’s why, despite years of negotiations that originally led to beer being served in the stadium before being shunted to out-of-the-way spots in September, ended up with only non-alcoholic beer being within the gates two days before the event begins, is so important.

What else may happen? Whether you enjoy watching soccer or not, this World Cup might be must-see TV just to watch what happens in the stands, in the luxury boxes and elsewhere off the field.

• What else is available this weekend? No Seahawks game, sadly enough. But maybe their bye did come at the perfect time. After all, it’s a crowded Sunday. Besides the World Cup beginning at 8 in the morning (Ecuador vs. Qatar on FS1), Gonzaga is entertaining Kentucky in the Arena at 4:30 p.m. (ESPN). In between is the best women’s game of the year, with No. 1 South Carolina traveling to No. 2 Stanford at noon on ABC.

And that doesn’t include the NFL, though the only “good” game isn’t until 5:20, when the Chiefs play at the Chargers (NBC).

Saturday is more typical, though the Cougar football game begins a bit early for our tastes. A noon kickoff (Pac-12 Network) in Tucson means it’s 11 a.m. here. Heck, the radio pregame show starts at 9, just after WSU fans get up to watch their flag wave in Bozeman. Yep, GameDay is at the Brawl of the Wild, which means ESPN can color in another state on the back its GameDay RV.

There are a few other rivalry games Saturday as well, most of whom will draw more fans but less antagonism. USC and UCLA meet before more than 75,000 in the Rose Bowl (Fox 28, 5 p.m.), Oklahoma State plays at sold-out Oklahoma (ABC, 4:30) and Boston College will pack Notre Dame (NBC, 11:30 a.m.).

And the Big Game (Pac-12, 2:30 p.m.) is tomorrow as well, but we have always felt California and Stanford use the term in an ironic way. After all, there will probably be more empty seats in Memorial Stadium than fans. And they’ll enjoy a nice Bota-bag Cabernet while watching.

Maybe the best college basketball game of the weekend, non-Spokane version, happens today (4 p.m., ESPN2). No. 16 Virginia meets fifth-ranked Baylor in Las Vegas, of all places. A Tony Bennett-coached school vs. a Baptist university in Sin City. Seems a bit off.

Just like this weekend. Though we assume there will be beer sold in the arena.

•••

WSU: Yes, it’s Arizona week. Or should we say Jayden de Laura week. The Cougs do face their former quarterback. Colton Clark delves into that matchup in today’s S-R. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12 and college football, the UC Regents punted their decision about UCLA to the Big Ten until December. Makes us believe there are some discussions in the works that include the Pac-12 hierarchy and money. We’re of the mind the longer the decision takes, the more chance there is the Regents nix the move, giving UCLA cover to back out. Jon Wilner covers it in the Mercury News and he has his thoughts. Jon also has his preview of the weekend. … Bruce Feldman thinks WSU will lose. … The Virginia killings affected one Washington player deeply headed into Senior Day. … Utah has an exceptional defense. And a great passing attack when Cam Rising is healthy. That’s what Oregon faces Saturday in Eugene and the Ducks enter with a leaky pass defense and uncertainty at quarterback. … Yes, Stanford and California play Saturday. It’s the last Big Game for the voice of the Bears after 48 years. … Colorado’s season is winding down. … Is David Shaw’s tenure at Stanford? … The rivalry between USC and UCLA may lose its luster in the Big Ten but this year means a lot. The Bruins may be without their defensive coordinator. And the game will feature something that has never happened before. … Arizona State will try to upset Oregon State. … In basketball news, Saturday’s Stanford/South Carolina women’s game is the best of the weekend. … Colorado’s up-and-down season continued with a loss to UMass. … Utah also lost, at home to Sam Houston. … UCLA has a tough matchup with Illinois looming. … USC plays Mount St. Mary’s. … Arizona State loses a game it should have won and then upsets Michigan. … Arizona won again. The Wildcats are playing well.

Gonzaga: Before Jim Meehan starts a discussion about Kentucky, he takes one last look at the Texas defeat. … The men’s cross country team is ready for nationals this weekend. John Blanchette has a preview. … Elsewhere in the WCC, despite a school record by Eric Williams Jr. (43 points), USD fell to Utah State. … It sometimes takes a village to develop a basketball player.

EWU: The Eagles have one last chance to salvage something special from a lost season. Dan Thompson previews the final home game against Northern Colorado. The Bears have never defeated Eastern as an FCS school. … The Eastern women lost for the first time this season at Oregon State. … Elsewhere in the Big Sky, yes, the game with the most interest is probably the one between Montana and Montana State. … The game with the most importance, though, is probably the one between second-ranked Sacramento State and red-hot UC Davis, looking to make a late run to the FCS playoffs. … Yes, Northern Arizona and Weber State have decided to have a rivalry. … In basketball news, Montana won for the first time this season.

Idaho: It’s been a tough week in Moscow. But the football game with Idaho State must go on. Peter Harriman tells us the UI seniors are trying to lead through the pain.

Preps: Dave Nichols may be on vacation this week but he still has a preview of this weekend’s State football playoff games that feature local teams. … Mead and Mt. Spokane are both in the State 3A volleyball semifinals after Thursday’s first day.

Mariners: Kyle Lewis was the American League Rookie of the Year in 2020. Now he’s no longer a Mariner. He’s a Diamondback. Seattle traded Lewis yesterday for catcher/outfielder Cooper Hummel. … The trade for Teoscar Hernandez may be too good to be true.

Seahawks: The struggles of Russell Wilson in Denver might make a Hawk fan smile but, more importantly, they have to be making the front office smile as well. Seattle still has a couple of Denver’s draft picks for next season.

Kraken: Seattle ended its mini-slump with a 3-2 overtime win over the Rangers. … Yanni Gourde has been in the NHL much longer than he ever thought possible.

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• We have a plan heading into the Cougar game this weekend. We want to count how many times the broadcast team mentions de Laura was WSU’s quarterback last season. Vegas has set the over/under at 14. We’ll see. Until later …

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