PULLMAN – Washington State athletic director Jim Sterk, buffeted all week by criticism of a plan to move the Apple Cup annually to Seattle’s Qwest Field, held an impromptu news conference Saturday following the Cougars’ spring football scrimmage.
Surrounded by reporters and cameras on the Martin Stadium turf, Sterk said he understood the intense reaction of the Cougars faithful, but he emphasized budget pressures forced him to evaluate the still-to-be-signed agreement.
“My first reaction was, ‘Hell no,’ and, ‘No way,’ but, unfortunately, we are in unprecedented times,” Sterk said. “Every day, thousands of people are getting laid off … and athletics is not immune to that.
“The ability for us to generate some unprecedented revenues in a time where we’re going to be facing some significant cuts and challenges to our program, I’ve got to consider it.”
Sterk said the WSU athletic department is looking at a $1.5 to $2 million “challenge for the coming year.” To make the budget balance, he added, his staff is looking at “anything and everything,” including limiting roster size, travel budgets and personnel cuts throughout the department.
He said the agreement would guarantee WSU an increase of more than $10 million over the current setup in the six years of the contract.
“Do I want to bring the game there?” he asked rhetorically. “No. But it’s something as athletics director I need to consider doing, given all the factors.
“As I look at the budget challenges, as I look at trying to keep our programs competitive, then three games – and they’re significant, three Apple Cups are significant – but, for three games to net $10 million dollars, and to bring back the annual game that we do in Seattle now to Pullman, then I would say the Pullman community, if it’s not a wash, it might even be an increase as far as the economic impact.”
Still, Sterk understands the fans’ reaction.
“Fans, overall, alumni and fans have the same reaction I had,” Sterk said. “ ‘Oh my gosh, there’s no way. The guy is crazy, he’s a lunatic.’ … Those are a few of the things that have been said to me or my daughters.”
But many of the more financially involved boosters have been positive, Sterk said.
“The people that understand, the people that have invested a lot in the program, that are helping us with our stadium project, those people are solidly behind it,” Sterk said.
Besides the financial aspects, Sterk also addressed some of the nuts-and-bolts of the proposed deal.
•The particulars are still being ironed out, he said.
“Both schools are looking at it hard, and I’m really not sure when it will be finalized,” Sterk said.
He said there is a draft agreement, but “I haven’t signed in blood – literally.”
•The deal isn’t a certainty.
“I can’t say that,” he answered when asked if he expected it to go through. “I think so, but I couldn’t say there may be things that change that I don’t know about that the decision may be different, but as the factors I see right now, yeah, it probably would.”
•The agreement would be for six years, but it could be extended if it works out. Sterk said he would use the Apple Cup’s migration to Seattle as a way to help raise funds to finish the planned remodel and expansion of Martin Stadium.
“That is something I would look at and try to do during the six years is build it up, get our Phase III done and possibly more and then bring it back,” he said.
•The game would be part of the student sports pass, just like the Seattle game is now. Sterk feels they would give WSU an advantage.
“To tell you the truth, I think we would have more students there than the University of Washington,” Sterk said. “I would project that our students would go and be there. … More students would be closer on Thanksgiving weekend than they are on the Seattle-game weekend.”
•The game would be projected to be on that Thanksgiving weekend, allowing a bye in the 12-game schedule.
“This year, on a normal calendar year, we’re able to, in Seattle, move the game to Thanksgiving weekend,” he said of the current arrangement. “In Pullman, I don’t think that works.”
•Sterk said contracts for future non-conference games with Wisconsin, UNLV and Utah “specifically say, Pullman, Wash.,” and it would cost a significant amount for an opponent to get out of the contract.
“Some people may balk at it, but I would certainly want to hold people there,” he said. “The more we can build up the stadium here, then it is easier for me to pay a larger guarantee and bring people in like that.”