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Originally published Friday, December 8, 2006 at 12:00 AM

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Promoter pushes for college hoopfest involving state's D-1 schools

The issue of college-basketball scheduling among schools in the state of Washington acquired a new twist Thursday as a promoter advanced...

Seattle Times staff reporter

The issue of college-basketball scheduling among schools in the state of Washington acquired a new twist Thursday as a promoter advanced the notion of getting the state's four NCAA Division I teams together in an annual doubleheader.

John Hines, whose Northwest Sports and Entertainment company has run college-basketball games at KeyArena involving Gonzaga and Washington State, is proposing a four-year deal that would start as early as next year.

Hines' proposal, which arrived at the schools Thursday, would pit Washington and Gonzaga against each other and match WSU and Eastern Washington, twice at KeyArena and twice at Spokane Arena. It would be a one-day, one-game format for each school.

"What an unbelievable basketball atmosphere that would make," said Hines, who estimates the four schools could split $1.3 million over the length of the proposed deal.

"I think it's a great event for this time of year, on a Saturday. If we can get something between Dec. 8 and 15, it really opens up our options for television."

Scheduling has become a focal point since Washington notified Gonzaga recently that it likely wouldn't continue its series with the Zags next year, something UW coach Lorenzo Romar confirmed this week. The Huskies have expressed a desire to use that slot to schedule high-profile intersectional opponents with the hope of attracting national television.

"If they're looking for more national opportunities, I think that's something we can bring to the table," said Hines. "There's not going to be a lack of suitors for the event. We would not have sent that (proposal) out if we hadn't spoken to the networks and gauged interest.

"This game belongs where everybody can see it. Duke and North Carolina are on every year. Why can't we get Washington and Gonzaga?"

Athletic administrators at the four schools had varied reactions, from a wait-and-see stance at Washington and Gonzaga, to wholehearted support from Eastern Washington, to a thumbs-down from Washington State.

"Playing Eastern every year and being the second card is not of interest to me," said Jim Sterk, the WSU athletic director, whose school hasn't played the Eagles since 1998.

Darren Hamilton, who began as EWU athletic director in the fall, said the concept "definitely has appeal."

Eastern's contract with the Zags ran out in November, and Gonzaga has hinted it might not continue.

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"There's been some dialogue via the newspapers, and I don't know the authenticity of the comments, that Washington didn't want to play Gonzaga and Gonzaga didn't want to play Eastern," Hamilton said.

"I know one thing that's certain, the prominent programs weren't always prominent. So for them to be afraid and not want to play [others] kind of runs counter to being a Division I institution."

Mike Roth, Gonzaga athletic director, said the logistics of coordinating schedules for four schools could be problematic but added, "It's not going to be a thing where we're going to have to wonder about a promoter doing what they say. That definitely wouldn't happen in this case. We have a great relationship with John [Hines] and his staff."

"I think the key is the University of Washington," said Hines, who has promoted Gonzaga's annual "Battle in Seattle" games and Washington State's "Hardwood Classic" at KeyArena.

Indeed, the concept would have to satisfy any concerns the Huskies have about a resumption of the Gonzaga series.

"I don't think it's a bad idea; it's something worth talking about," said UW associate athletic director Jeff Compher, who handles the Huskies' scheduling.

As for whether the format addresses Washington's needs with regard to a continuation of the Gonzaga series, Compher said, "I'm not sure it does that. I think we'd have to have some specific conversations with the promoters."

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com

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