It’s Apple Cup Satur … uh, Friday.
Just what fan demographic do you suppose they were targeting with this “Eureka!” moment? Guys desperate to get out of Black Friday maneuvers with their wives?
Not that actual game-attending humans are of much concern to college football anymore – though like “Cheers,” games are still filmed before a live studio audience.
The house will still be mostly full today when Washington and Washington State meet for the 105th time, a testament to the enduring appeal of hating your neighbor. This despite the fact that the most anticipated game of any Cougars season is being played on the, yes, remote and rural WSU campus with students on Thanksgiving break and square against the biggest shopping day of the year.
This is how the caretakers of the game are doing their duty.
While we’re at it, let’s get a report card on just how the old Pacific-10 Conference’s pumping up into the Pac-12 and that blockbuster television contract is treating everyone:
—- Every game’s on the tube and reruns go all week. Unless you’re hooked up to DirecTV, in which case you might as well have an old Philco and rabbit ears.
—- If you’ve been commuting to Pullman for the last two home games from, say, Chattaroy and faithfully stayed until the bitter end, you pulled into your driveway about 2 a.m.
—- If you’re from Aberdeen or Anacortes, you spent your Thanksgiving in a campus RV lot and counted your blessings over some fruit juice in the fieldhouse, since kickoff for the Apple Cup was scheduled, remarkably, on something other than Vampire Standard Time.
—- You’ve grown familiar with the fine football programs at Colorado and Utah, but you haven’t seen USC in two years – the sort of thing that was standard in Pullman in the 1940s. That’s a curious definition of progress.
WSU athletic director Bill Moos has gotten some pushback on a few of those points, and empathizes up to a point.
The decimal point.
Anything to the left of it is his ammunition, since that TV money more or less bankrolled the new bauble atop Martin Stadium’s north stands, the football operations building that will start going up in the offseason and the coach who, uh, has everyone buzzing about the program.
TV, of course, has been jacking game times around for years, and giving the attending fan less and less advance notice to make travel plans. But with the Pac-12 Networks’ programming needs to go along with the ESPN/ABC and Root Sports package, three Cougars home games (including the one in Seattle) have been the late show.
Not a big deal for the West Siders who stay the night, but tough on fans who make the commute from, say, Spokane or the Tri-Cities.
But at least the Cougars haven’t had to host a Thursday night game. That comes next year, in October.
“That’s going to be a challenge,” Moos acknowledged. “You can’t really count on the fan from Olympia or Bellingham or Bellevue, unless they want to take two days off.”
There are other schools in the Pac-12 which draw long-distance fans, but none that are as dependent on support from the other side of the state as the Cougs. But being part of a collective means a collective sacrifice.
Hence the Apple Cup falling on this day, along with two other rivalry games.
The Pac-12’s title game shaved an available December Saturday off the regular season. The Thursday games, requiring byes on the previous Saturdays for the participating teams, also impacted the schedule. And this year, an unwillingness to play Thanksgiving week because of other activities surrounding their Big Game caused Cal and Stanford to engage in their neighborly combat in October.
That’s likely to happen to another pair of rivals in 2015, and for three years beyond that, when the college season will have to be squeezed into a 14-week window. And a Pac-12 executive told the San Jose Mercury News earlier this year that “the burden will be shared around the conference.”
Moos insisted “we have not gotten that message,” that the Apple Cup may have to be played in October sometime in the future. But then, who delivers bad news before it’s necessary?
“We hope our fans will understand and we can educate them,” Moos said, “and stay a part of things even when it’s inconvenient.”
But here’s the thing about that: Those fans are already paying their cable bills, and ticket prices aren’t coming down. It’s one thing to put up with inconvenience, and another to pay more for the privilege.
Black Friday was concocted to get people into the store. In the Pac-12, it’s just another TV slot.