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John Blanchette: Santa Clara answers Mark Few’s call to arms

UPDATED: Thu., Nov. 15, 2018

First things first:

Thanks for the ad, Santa Clara!

That was more than $4,000 you dropped on a full-pager in The Spokesman-Review this morning (see page A10), and if you’re even marginally aware of the state of the newspaper business, you’ll understand that the revenue from this shot across the bow of Mark Few and Gonzaga is more welcome than a teenager with a shovel offering to clear the driveway after the winter’s first big snowfall.

And to the image shapers at Gonzaga: feel free to take out space in these pages to respond! S-R advertising representatives are standing by for your call!

Man, this is way more fun than actual basketball games between the Bulldogs and Broncos.

Just do a quick flip to the main section and take a look at that bad-boy text:

GAME ON, it says.

That’s in fightin’-words-sized type, too.

Santa Clara University advertisement from the Nov. 13, 2018 edition of the Spokesman-Review
Santa Clara University advertisement from the Nov. 13, 2018 edition of the Spokesman-Review

It’s Santa Clara’s answer to comments Gonzaga’s longtime basketball coach made to Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Ed Graney at last month’s West Coast Conference media day at Orleans Arena – a continuation of a Few theme that’s been logged in the Spokesman for, well, years.

The subject this time was the WCC membership’s decisions last spring and the previous fall to change basketball scheduling and the way the league’s NCAA basketball tournament revenues are distributed. Those measures were taken, in essence, to dissuade Gonzaga from jumping to the Mountain West Conference, and included allowing WCC teams that advance deeper into March to keep a larger portion of the revenue – and as well as reimbursing Gonzaga a reported $1 million a year in NCAA back shares.

“For 20 years, we’ve been donating our (NCAA) shares while we have basically spent our adult lives professionally making Gonzaga as good as we can possibly be,” Few said. “So to just share all of that (money) like socialism with other administrations that weren’t as (committed), I mean, we’ve been taking some risks.

“Building a big arena and a practice facility and traveling the way we do and scheduling the way we do – it’s not fair to split it evenly when other programs aren’t even trying.”

Bet you can guess which part got the Broncos’ flank strap cinched up so tight.

Not that you have to guess. Those five damning words are right there at the top of the ad.

From that jumping-off point comes a rendering of an envisioned 50,000 square-foot Athletic Excellence Center – a $38 million project the school is announcing Tuesday – funded in part by $25 million in donations from two former Broncos athletes. It looks to be a facility in scope similar to Gonzaga’s Volkar Center for Athletic Achievement that opened last spring.

One difference being that the Zags didn’t take out a page in the San Jose Mercury News proclaiming, “GAME ON” when their building went up.

Now, most ticket buyers would settle for game-on when there’s actually, you know, a game on. The Broncos have won exactly two of the past 41 meetings with the Zags, and when Spokane last saw them were losing by 49 points.

But SCU athletic director Renee Baumgartner isn’t going to let anyone say they aren’t trying.

“We wanted to set the record straight that Santa Clara University is investing and we have made a commitment,” she said.

“We believe there’s been a lot of growth and investment from all the West Coast schools. There has been seven new basketball coaches hired in the last five years and those coaches have tremendous track records, including Herb (Sendek, Santa Clara’s third-year coach). Those schools including Santa Clara have invested millions of dollars in facilities.”

There is some building going on or recently completed: Practice facilities at BYU and San Francisco. Arena upgrades at USF and Saint Mary’s. Pepperdine has launched fund raising for a new events center. The Broncos themselves have redone the locker rooms, floor and offices, and Baumgartner said they’re taking some charter flights to away games.

Still, there is setting the record straight and there is neener-neener.

GAME ON?

This is, after all, the Santa Clara that lost by 17 points at home the other night to, uh, Prairie View.

Ah, but Baumgartner noted that she pulled a long stretch at Oregon in the era when the Ducks were doing things like the Joey Heisman billboard in Times Square, hence a pot-stirring background.

With a $4,000 spoon. Turns out Santa Clara took out a number of print and digital ads in its area “but it’s not the same ad that’s going in Spokane,” she reported – and those were university buys. Her department picked up the tab for this one, she said.

Here in town, Zags athletic director Mike Roth issued what amounted to a verbal shrug.

“I’m sure Santa Clara is doing what they think is best from an institutional standpoint,” Roth said. “I would say that when coach Few made his comments about competitiveness and commitment in the West Coast Conference, he didn’t single out any schools.”

And new WCC commissioner Gloria Nevarez seemed to be a reluctant referee.

“It’s Mark’s truth – he’s been in this league for a long time,” she said. “And it’s not always going to be comfortable when people speak their truths. But one reason this job was attractive to me was the investment folks are making.”

Few didn’t respond to an overture on Monday to comment on the ad, but he’s long made his feelings known on resource commitment and NCAA revenue distribution. In 2016, he told the Spokesman, “If they’re not spending it on basketball, we don’t need to be sponsoring swimming at those schools or whatever they’ve got going. They’re not all in.”

So maybe they’re getting the message. The about-face on the NCAA revenue split suggested as much.

People don’t like hearing from the neighbors that they should mow their lawns more often – and they really don’t like to hear how they should spend money. But if it’s money they didn’t earn, well, they’re probably going to hear about it.

“Gonzaga’s done an incredible job,” said Baumgartner. “We understand they have invested and they are the premier team in the conference. And we made decisions this last year to make sure they could continue that success. But we’d also like everybody else to be able to rise up, and I believe in the future that they will.”

Until then?

ADS ON.

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