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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

A Grip on Sports: As inventions go, only TV rivals the computer in changing sports over the years

A GRIP ON SPORTS • It must be Wednesday. Recycle day – at least at the homestead. We’re nowhere near. In fact, we’re almost as far away as one can be and still remain in these United States. But we do have thoughts we want to recycle, so there’s that.


• What was the most important invention of the 20th Century? The television? The airplane? The forward pass? Such discussions are not easy to decide, mainly because it depends on your perspective. Having lived through nearly half of that long-departed century, and having experienced the first couple decades of our current one, we fall firmly in the computer/Internet camp.

Mainly because of how the duo – and they are inseparable – has changed so many other aspects of modern life. They touch everything, including sports – the main subject here, right?

Let’s take baseball, for example, as we prepare for the annual event known as the Fall Classic.

Love or hate analytics, you have to admit the crunching of numbers has altered the game. So much so, in fact, the most sacred rules had to undergo a metamorphosis just to level the playing field again. And it all revolves around the computer. Without its power, baseball would still be a game controlled by overweight, tobacco-chewing dudes with pencils and paper, hoping to find one little edge to help their team win. And failing.

Now they chew gum, watch video on a pad, crunch numbers with a laptop and know they will find that elusive edge. If they work the margins long enough.

Though baseball isn’t alone. The king of American sports, football, may still have its primitive aspects but it is, basically, a sport that relies on information – isn’t that right Jim Harbaugh? – and analysis to allow offenses to matriculate down the field. Besides, it wouldn’t be nearly as popular if the Internet didn’t disseminate highlights to every corner of the planet or allow folks with way too much time on their hands to play fantasy games.

And don’t get us started on gambling via the Web.

Planes? High-speed trains would be everywhere if they were never invented. The radio? We were doing just fine with the telegraph. Non-stick pans? OK, they make life easier. But they still don’t rise to the level of importance as that rectangular box you are reading this on.

• So, what is out there on the Interweb today?

We’re interested in Washington State’s game Saturday night at Arizona State. Not because it has any bearing on the CFP or anything, but because the 4-3 Cougars need a victory in the worst way against the 1-6 Sun Devils. Doesn’t matter if they play their best or worst, the Cougs need to win and end their three-game losing streak.

We’re interested in what’s happening with WSU and Oregon State, as the two Pac-12 survivors travel a lonely road. Can they come up with a plan that solidifies their future in the next month or so? And will the courts move at light speed to give them some clarity? A story yesterday from Yahoo Sports’ Ross Dellinger tried to clear up some things. And it included a nugget concerning the Apple Cup, which gives us some hope there might be at least two more after this year.

We’re also interested in the World Series matchup, one that probably won’t attract a lot of eyes to the Fox broadcasts – the Series starts on the network Friday – but does include two differing philosophies. The Rangers spent a billion dollars or so to get out of a decade-long funk. The Diamondbacks spent too but mainly they mined the trade and draft markets. Neither way guarantees success. But the former has a bigger margin of error and takes a little less luck.

Finally, we’re interested in the Seahawks. Could this be another special year? Yes, they have issues, mainly on the offensive end. But a large part is due to injuries. If the offensive line heals up, Geno Smith’s comfort level rises and the group should be more efficient. Couple that with a defense that seems to be playing the way Pete Carroll wants – as if it’s 1999 all over again – and the next few Sundays should be really fun.


WSU: One of the Cougars’ issues recently has been tackling. Greg Woods delves into the numbers today – hey, computers again – and tells us what they are doing about it as they prep for Arizona State. … Greg also has a story on a high school lineman who decided the unclear conference future has no bearing on his future. He is still headed to Pullman. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12 and the nation, we shared Jon Wilner’s power rankings yesterday but they are available in the S-R today. … So are others, including Christian Caple’s. … Wilner also has his weekly Heisman watch in the Mercury News as well as his bowl projections. … There is no hurry for Oregon State’s freshman quarterback to play consistently. … Oregon is getting healthier as it readies for its trip to Utah. … The Utes have more injuries than any team should expect. … No injury, but Lincoln Riley has missed USC’s practice this week due to illness. … Chip Kelly and Deion Sanders are keeping it civil this week, which is no fun. … Arizona has shown a lot of defensive flexibility.

EWU and Idaho: The road to the Big Sky title has been just that for second-ranked Montana State. The Bobcats (6-1, 4-0 in conference) are playing all their toughest games away from Bozeman, including Saturday, when they visit ninth-ranked Idaho and their rivalry game, which will be in Missoula this season. Dan Thompson has more in his weekly Big Sky notebook. … Elsewhere in the conference, Northern Colorado has yet to win. But the Bears are not an awful team, according to first-year coach Ed Lamb.

Preps: Dave Nichols covers Ridgeline’s 5-0 win over Ferris in Wednesday 3A district soccer playoffs. And he uses that to lead off a roundup of all the action.

Boxing: The sport can become a family business. It has for Frank Vassar. Charlotte McKinley caught up with the trainer when he visited Spokane recently and spoke with him about his boxing career, in and out of the ring.

Seahawks: Is Devon Witherspoon the NFL’s best corner? Pro Football Focus says he is. … The Hawks host Cleveland this week. The Browns have a quarterback issue. … The Hawks played the Cardinals this week in 2013. … Could Seattle work a trade with, say, the Panthers for a pass-rushing specialist? The Hawks have a need.

Sounders: There will be roster changes when the playoffs are over, no matter the outcome. That’s a given.

Kraken: Seattle came up clutch on the road to get past Detroit in overtime.

Mariners: The Diamondbacks kept Philadelphia in the yard last night. And won 4-2, handing the Phillies another NLDS home loss and crushing their World Series dreams.


• We’re still trying to determine if we can find the Pac-12 Network somewhere this Saturday to watch the Cougars and ASU play, It’s not so much an impossibility – there is always the laptop and our Comcast account – but it’s also the idea of how much more fun it might be writing a sort-of “Waiting for Godot” play about a couple sitting at a barstool, talking while they wait for the game to come on. After 127 pages of discussion concerning topics ranging from the demise of the Pac-12 to the importance of long snappers, it never does. Do you think Samuel Beckett’s estate would sue? By the way, Beckett’s masterpiece is in my top five of favorite plays, though “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” still carries the No. 1 overall seed. Until later …