December 1, 2011 in Sports

WSU fans opening their checkbooks

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Associated Press photo

Washington State fans are responding to the hiring of football coach Mike Leach.
(Full-size photo)

PULLMAN – The day after Mike Leach was hired as Washington State’s football coach, the apathy athletic director Bill Moos perceived in the Cougar fan base has seemingly dissipated.

Replaced by an interest that’s spread as far south as Lubbock, Texas.

When Moos relieved Paul Wulff of his duties earlier this week, he cited that fan apathy as the trigger factor, saying it was his hope to provide a spark by changing leadership.

That spark has turned into a West Texas brush fire.

Some 36 hours since the news leaked out the replacement was Leach, the former Texas Tech coach, the Cougars had already sold 350 new season tickets and roped in $170,000 in new pledged donations.

“Every since the reports came out, even before it was confirmed, our phone, honestly, has been ringing off the hook,” WSU director of ticket operations Paul Finn said Thursday.

“In one day, to have that many people buy tickets, donate, give money, it’s a pretty big deal,” he added. “We haven’t seen a day like that since I’ve been here.”

And the Cougar Athletic Foundation, which oversees fund-raising, has seen an increased interest as well.

“The fan base is fired up about Mike’s hire,” said associate athletic director Chris Walker, who runs the CAF. “A steady stream of phone calls, e-mails and text messages, people wanting to get involved.”

The money is needed not only because Leach was signed to a five-year contract that will pay him a minimum of $11.25 million, but because Moos has embarked on an ambitious building project in the athletic department.

That ambition is getting started now, with construction underway on a new press box building on Martin Stadium’s south side, which will include luxury boxes, premium seating and other amenities.

The $80 million price tag is being guaranteed by the increased media revenue the Pac-12 Conference has mined with its $3 billion, 12-year deal that begins with the next football season. That money will be shared equally with the conference’s schools, meaning WSU will realize around $21 million a year – lower at first, more later – over the course of the contract.

But that’s just the start, and Moos said he needs around another $5 million in revenue just to cover the cost of athletic scholarships.

“I opened my checkbook for you,” Moos told Cougar fans when he hired Leach. “It’s time for you to open your checkbook for me.”

That statement might become part of a fund-raising campaign, Walker said.

“A lot of people who have responded,” he said, “whether it is on-line donations in their comments or just in emails, they’ve used that, saying ‘hey, I’m opening my checkbook.’”

Money is also made in the football program – the only sport that makes a profit at WSU – and last year’s home-game attendance of 172,746 was well-below capacity.

Last year, WSU had less than 10,000 football season-ticket holders. Current season-ticket holders will see their renewal notices next month.

Leach, who was 84-43 in 10 years at Texas Tech, each of which ended in a bowl game, developed quite a following with the Red Raiders. And it may help WSU next year.

Thursday, its athletics communications office received an email from a Texas Tech fan. The subject? Washington State’s 2012 schedule, which has yet to released.

“My group of 44 season-ticket holders really misses the excitement coach Leach can bring to a stadium and the wins along with it,” wrote Jeremy Dansby. “I will wait for the schedule on email so I can try and get some tickets.

“Good luck to you and your university and long live the Pirate!”


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