PULLMAN – Washington State University and the University of Washington are near an agreement to move the Apple Cup rivalry football game to Qwest Field in Seattle, The Spokesman-Review learned Wednesday.
The agreement, which is expected to be finalized soon, would mean the yearly game between the schools would move off campus sites – Martin Stadium in Pullman and Husky Stadium in Seattle – and be played in the Seattle Seahawks’ home each season beginning in 2010.
“Nothing is signed and there are no agreements,” Pullman mayor Glenn Johnson said, “but they are talking and there are some negotiations going on.”
A source with knowledge of the agreement among WSU, UW and First & Goal Inc., which operates Qwest Field, confirmed some of the details of the pending contract but asked their name not be used due to the sensitive nature of the discussions.
“It’s going to happen,” the source said, adding they couldn’t see anything derailing it.
Bill Stevens, WSU sports information director, would not comment on the negotiations, other than to say the school has been talking with First & Goal Inc., since the first of the year about continuing its annual game in the facility.
WSU has played one home game each season at Qwest since 2002. The agreement between Qwest and WSU expires after the Sept. 12 game with Hawaii.
“It would be premature to discuss specific games,” Stevens said. WSU athletic director Jim Sterk, through Stevens, also declined comment.
The major impetus behind the talks, according to the source, is financial, with each school in line to be guaranteed about $2 million each year from the Qwest agreement. Due to a revenue-sharing agreement currently in place, each school clears about $240,000 when the game is in Pullman and nearly $800,000 when it is held at Husky Stadium.
The proposal has been vetted by committees at both schools and the response has been “it would be fiscally irresponsible,” to turn down such a financial windfall, the source said.
Recent tuition increases proposed by Gov. Chris Gregoire would add around $1 million in scholarship costs to the WSU athletic department budget. And though a large majority of athletic funding is self-generated, proposed university-wide budget cuts could mean up to another $400,000 taken from the department’s nearly $30 million budget.
“If it’s $2 million a year, especially with this kind of competitive athletic conference and, especially when you’re dealing with the finances we have in the state, that would make a significant difference,” said Johnson, who is also a WSU communications professor.
Apple Cup week is a financial boon for Pullman’s hotels and restaurants, but the hit would be mitigated somewhat by the return of the early-season Seattle game.
“I am concerned about that,” Johnson said of the biennial Apple Cup no longer being in Pullman, “because that is a huge revenue boost for this entire region. When Sterk was talking to me (about a possible change), he said they would move back … that other game, which is usually at the first of the football season.
“If (Sterk) did bring back the other game, that is already over in Seattle, at least he would still be delivering the five games (a year) that he promised the chamber (of commerce) years ago, or promised the businesses.”
When the Cougars hosted the Apple Cup in 1950 and 1952 and from 1956 to 1980, they did so in Spokane. The game returned to Pullman in 1982 following a stadium expansion in the late 1970s.
Since then, the Pullman game usually played before a sellout crowd, though two of the last three have not. The game has drawn as many as 74,549 at Husky Stadium. Qwest Field holds 67,000.
Under the terms of the proposed agreement, Qwest Field would be considered a neutral site, with a designated home team each year but the seating split between the schools, according to the source.
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