The Apple Cup deal that would’ve yanked the rivalry football game from Pullman and placed it in Seattle for six years has been mercifully gang-tackled. The grab for more dollars finally unraveled when Husky fans discovered that Qwest Field wouldn’t have enough seats to accommodate demand.
Imagine that: the wishes of the fans taking precedence. If that had been the top priority from the beginning, this unpopular drama could’ve been avoided.
It all started when the athletic directors of both universities agreed to move the game off their campuses and into a “neutral site” a few miles from the University of Washington campus. In exchange for that, First & Goal, which manages the stadium, guaranteed both schools $10 million above what they would have normally collected.
But from the moment it was announced, fans from both schools booed loudly. Still, it looked like a done deal until Husky fans turned purple over the prospect of missing the game. A total of 31,000 seats was to be allocated for each university’s fans, but UW has about 7,000 more season ticket holders than that and expects another 8,000 for the coming season. Washington State University wasn’t going to surrender any seats, so an impasse was reached.
“I was not going to continue following a path that was not in the best interest of WSU Athletics, the university and our fans,” Washington State University Athletic Director Jim Sterk said in a news release.
He probably rues the day he took a single step in that direction, because the blowback from Cougar students, alumni and assorted fans has been fierce. Though he’s unlikely ever to admit it, the Huskies provided him a much-needed escape hatch.
Regardless of how many seats the Cougars were allotted, the home of the Seattle Seahawks was never going to be viewed as a fair place to play. It would have been like moving the game to the University of Idaho each year and calling it neutral.
This was a sellout – and not the good kind.
It was also a stark reminder of the ridiculous sums that are poured into college athletics these days. To keep up with the constant arms race in stadiums, training facilities and coaching salaries, Cougar and Husky officials decided to dump a treasured tradition and put the game up for sale. The biggest losers would have been Cougar students and local fans, not to mention Pullman businesses that turn a tidy profit during Apple Cup week.
Ultimately, the desire of Husky fans to see the game up close – and close to home – will mean that local Cougar fans will continue to do the same every other year. It was a loopy route to the right decision, but it’s still reason to cheer.