PULLMAN – For the past seven seasons, the Washington State University football team has played one home game 300 miles from campus.
It’s the Cougars’ annual game at Qwest Field, home of the Seattle Seahawks and just down I-5 from WSU’s archrival, the University of Washington.
But Saturday’s game with the University of Hawaii is the last under the current contract Washington State has with First & Goal, the company that runs Qwest Field. No new agreement has been signed.
“It’s something we need to do,” WSU athletic director Jim Sterk said this week. “We need to have a presence there.”
Sterk doesn’t expect there will be a problem coming to an arrangement with First & Goal to ensure the series continues. Though there is some negotiating that needs to be done.
“From our standpoint, we need to create an event that drives more revenue,” Sterk said.
In other words, the Cougars are looking for a little more money.
Since the game started in 2002 with 63,588 in the stands to watch WSU play Nevada, the attendance has slowly eroded.
The Cougars drew 50,830 last season in coach Paul Wulff’s debut, but that was the first time they eclipsed the 50,000 mark in three years. A crowd of around 45,000 is expected Saturday.
“Yeah, a little bit, I guess, as far as the numbers of people, that it’s waned,” Sterk said when asked if he was disappointed in the revenue of the past few years.
WSU and UW almost reached agreement in the spring with First & Goal to move the Apple Cup to the stadium, which would have meant around $12 million for each school over the course of the multiyear contract, but that deal fell apart.
Sterk is trying to hammer out an agreement to keep a game in Seattle.
He has to, in part, because the game is now just a portion of the show.
“It’s been a great success from the standpoint of … being able to attract a lot more Cougars than anyone ever thought,” Sterk said. “And the university has utilized it. Now there are 24 events around the football game. It’s ‘Seattle Week’ now, it’s not just a game.”
Of course, future Cougar luncheons and recruiting opportunities for other WSU programs aren’t the centerpiece.
The game is.
That’s fine with Wulff and his players. They don’t mind playing the occasional game in an NFL stadium.
“Our opportunity to play in Qwest Field is always a good,” Wulff said. “It’s a good one for our players, our fans. It’s a great stadium, one of the loudest in the country and … to have that place full of Cougars is a lot of fun.
“There’s probably no event that draws that amount of Cougars in one spot.”
Wulff wants to see it continue.
“I think there’s a time and place for that, I do,” Wulff said. “Whether it’s an every year thing or (it’s) bi-yearly, whatever, I do think there’s merit and I think it’s a good thing.”
So does Sterk. After all, it was his idea.
He even admits to talking to Seahawks owner Paul Allen’s group while he was still working at Portland State. He was trying to gauge, if he ever became WSU’s athletic director, the interest in hosting a Cougars game in Seattle.
But seven years after the fruition of his idea, it’s time to revamp the plan.
“We’ve been discussing with First & Goal … what we do with this in the future,” Sterk said. “I don’t have anything to report to you yet what we’re doing, but we want to do something over there.”
The final bargain might be a while in the making.
“As long as we have a plan before season-ticket renewals go out in January, I think we’re fine,” Sterk said.