Cougar fans snarling

The Zags-Cougars series will return to Washington State’s Beasley Coliseum in 2016 after a stop in Spokane next season. (File)

Revamped Gonzaga-WSU basketball deal has some crying foul

Damn, you’d have thought a tailgate guest at Washington State had confessed a preference for Velveeta on his cracker over Cougar Gold.

Outrage has been in overdrive in Crimsonia since it dribbled out in Gonzaga’s student newspaper this week that next season’s Bulldogs-Cougars basketball game will be played in downtown Spokane.

And so was hatched the greatest indignity since Ambassador Trentino refused to shake hands with Rufus T. Firefly.

Wait, that didn’t actually happen. Well, perhaps that makes it even more analogous.

This latest bit of Zags-related scheduling melodrama actually goes back a year, when the contract had run out on the teams’ comfortable alternating-campus series. Gonzaga balked at renewing it on the same terms, taking note that the Cougars’ competitive stature – while plenty good enough to give the Zags fits on a given night – had become a drag in the resume enhancement department.

“They weren’t getting a lot of credit for beating us,” acknowledged WSU athletic director Bill Moos, “and they could lose a lot by losing to us.”

Last season, Wazzu’s RPI was worse than each of Gonzaga’s West Coast Conference fellows, who already make the power-ratings game a chancy proposition. In the last five years, the Cougars’ average ranking has been 170.

Top 25-level programs don’t make a habit of playing nonconference roadies with the 170s. But the Zags and Cougs have some history – 106 years’ worth – even if it’s been fitful at times.

So at Gonzaga’s behest, a new deal was struck – last November’s game on GU’s campus, a 2015 game at WSU, and the one in between at the Spokane Arena.

Another Zags’ home game.

It will, in all likelihood, be part of the Gonzaga season ticket package. There will be no monetary guarantee for Wazzu. The Cougs do get some extra comp passes and can bring their band, mascot and spirit squad, and their fans are welcome to join in the free-for-all for tickets, of course.

But it’s Gonzaga’s show. And that has large pockets of Moos’ constituency hollering that he sold them out, though they’re being drowned out by the mob calling the Zags extortionists or hypocrites, or both.

Hypocrites?

The livid Cougs have jumped on Gonzaga dismissing Washington’s offer a couple years ago to revive yearly on-court relations on what the Huskies characterize as the neutral court of KeyArena in Seattle.

Yes, the Dawgs as amicus curiae. The head, it explodes from the irony.

Indeed, only a month ago in reference to the suspended UW-Gonzaga series, Zags athletic director Mike Roth recalled them as “great games on college campuses, which is where those games should be played.”

Hmm. And the Gonzaga-WSU game?

“This is one game,” he said. “It’s being played in an arena where this series used to be played regularly, where in fact Washington State has played lately as often or more often than we do. They have a significant presence in Spokane. Comparing this to the (KeyArena proposal) is apples and oranges.”

Well, not completely. The Battle in Seattle has given the Zags a pretty significant presence in Seattle, too, or why else would they keep going back? That doesn’t make a series with Washington at Key a good idea, however.

Because Roth’s original point resonates: The games should be on campus. These games, too. If Gonzaga is going to return to Pullman in 2015 anyway, what exactly is this odd business?

For Moos, a tourniquet to stop the bleeding.

He stopped short of characterizing Gonzaga’s push as an ultimatum, though “I believe if I’d held my ground on them coming to Pullman this year, they would not have gone forward with the contract,” he said.

“I won’t let it be a precedent,” Moos insisted. “I would not go to McCarthey two years in a row. I thought it was worth compromising to keep this series, this history, going.”

And speaking of history, the caterwauling Cougs might stop to reflect that 29 years once passed in this series without a game in Gonzaga’s gym. That former WSU coach Kelvin Sampson once pulled the plug on it for seven years, saying “We wanted to play somebody we could beat.” No drumbeat among Cougar fans was heard to repair tradition.

When it resumed in 1995, it was at the Spokane Arena – until 1997, when the Cougars threw some money at GU to move it to Pullman because they felt they needed a home game. In 2000, the Cougs bailed again for a year, wanting another home game.

So much for sacred tradition.

But if nothing else, this twist gives Cougar fans statewide renewed motivation to detest the rival coach and hate on Spokane.

Some probably think that’s a grand tradeoff for a home game.

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