September 5, 2012 in Sports

Blanchette: Cougs’ new digs show they belong

By The Spokesman-Review
 
SR photo

Sports columnist John Blanchette.
(Full-size photo)

A magazine devoted to Pac-12 football currently on newsstands includes a photo essay on the conference’s stadiums. The title – “The Cathedrals” – seems a tad high-flown, especially if you’ve had a late-night security guard escort through the parking lot at Memorial Coliseum or recall that not long ago administrators at Washington were panhandling the Legislature with the plea that Husky Stadium was unsafe for human habitation.

And, yes, Martin Stadium is included, though its sliver of the magazine spread would more accurately be labeled, “Roadside Chapels.”

But, of course, the accompanying picture is a “before.”

Come Saturday, you’ll see the “after.”

For the record, the $65 million project still getting a final turn of the screwdriver in the countdown to Washington State’s home opener did not turn the joint into Sistine Stadium.

Michigan, Ohio State and Tennessee still top the majestic edifice rankings. Touchdown Jesus, Death Valley and the  Rose Bowl won’t get bumped off anyone’s iconic Top 10 list.

But for the first time since the simpler years after Martin itself went up in 1972, the Cougars have a house that at least suggests they’re players in the game.

All it took was an attractive, well-appointed, three-story structure atop the south stands to replace the aluminum house trailer that had teetered up there as a temporary shelter for 40 years.

Is a look that important?

Does a limo need a champagne bucket?

“We would have been left in the dust,” WSU athletic director Bill Moos said, “and maybe never could have caught up if we didn’t make the two moves that we did.”

The building, he means, and the blockbuster hire.

Whatever blueprint Moos has going on in his head for the school’s athletic renaissance, the picture begins with a simple connect-the-dots: television/Mike Leach/facilities.

Without their cut of the Pac-12’s outsized bonanza in both its deals with ESPN and Fox and the launch of its own networks, the Cougars couldn’t have gone shopping for their new rock-star coach – who, much as he enjoys the Pullman pace, wasn’t going to work for the same discount price Paul Wulff did.

Nor would Moos have had the collateral for the upscale clubhouse for the moneyed folks and the media.

And without Leach’s persona and history to inflame passions, Moos wasn’t going to peddle nearly 2,000 new premium seats.

“I’m an optimist – I thought we could really get people’s curiosity and play off it,” Moos admitted, “but we sold all those suites in 10 working days after the Leach hire, and the same with the loge seats and a good amount of the club seats.”

Which should, in turn, allow Martin to generate enough revenue each year to make the bond payment.

Given that consideration and thanks to the on-time-and-under- budget assembly of the stadium addition, Moos can reload to pitch the Board of Regents on the building he wanted to do in the first place: the football operations center he envisions rising beyond the west end zone.

“Compare Washington State with Cal or Oregon or Arizona,” he cautioned, “and we’re not there yet in regards to servicing the athletes. But this (building) will attract players, too. Kids want to play in a first-class venue.”

There were some hard realities Moos had to parse in managing his building dollar – not the least of which being that donors had already given money for a stadium upgrade originally floated by his predecessor, Jim Sterk, for the north side.

They had paid for cushier seats, so cushier seats they would have.

Naturally, this grand addition to Cougar football has brought us back to the uncomfortable discussion of the runaway gentrification of college athletics, whether it be insane coaching salaries or luxuries lavished on the participants and patrons.

In the context of what’s been happening on other campuses, Wazzu’s new toy is both top-shelf and understated. On visceral level, it seems just right in the Cougar scheme of things. You have to think even the folks on a budget sitting in the horseshoe will look up at the fancy digs and think, “Hey, pretty good.” If they ever get a look inside, some of Moos’ historical touches might even inspire a lump in the throat or two.

Still, $65 million could fund a lot of research. But that ship sailed years ago, and there’s a price tag to keep the kind of company that’s part of the Wazzu vision.

One other thing: More than a suite seat – or a sweet seat – WSU’s constituency was desperate to feel good about something football related. Until Leach’s team can accommodate that need, this will do.

It’s no cathedral. But it’s a step in giving the Cougs a prayer.


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