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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Playing in Seattle mixed bag for Cougars

PULLMAN – Connor Halliday is nothing if not honest. So when the Washington State quarterback was asked what he thought about playing Saturday’s home game against Oregon at CenturyLink Field in Seattle instead of at home in Pullman, he didn’t hold back.

“I think it’s exciting for the west side of the state,” Halliday said. “We’ve got a lot of Cougars over there.”

But … “But it’s not a true home game. It’s kind of frustrating that we don’t get to play the game in Martin Stadium. It’s kind of a 50-50 deal.

“I just wish all of our home games were here. I don’t see why we need to go somewhere else to play a home game. That’s my opinion.”

It’s not a surprising one. After all, why would a college football player want to get on an airplane and travel across the state to play one of his home games? They understand the purpose, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t rather play at home.

Defensive lineman Xavier Cooper doesn’t particularly like it, either, though the Tacoma native will at least be able to play in front of 25 or so family members and friends.

“I wish the game was here,” he said, also calling it a “50-50” situation because he gets to play close to home. “We deserve to have the game here, but that’s not my decision.”

And it’s an arrangement that isn’t going away any time soon, as athletic director Bill Moos has made clear. The Seattle Game, as it’s termed, used to be an early-season matchup between WSU and a nonconference opponent. The last of those was in 2009, when the Cougars lost to Hawaii.

Moos revived the tradition last year by announcing the Cougars would again play a game in Seattle each season, this time against whichever Oregon school WSU is scheduled to host.

A 44-21 beating at the hands of Oregon State in Seattle last season had some wondering if the Cougars were putting themselves at a disadvantage by only making the Beavers – and, this year, the Ducks – drive up Interstate 5 instead of forcing them to make the more difficult trip to Pullman.

There are questions about the atmosphere, too. A school spokesman said 56,000 tickets had been sold for Saturday’s game as of Wednesday morning, though it’s not known how many were bought by Oregon fans planning to make the short trek from the Portland area.

Moos is already on the west side of the state for Seattle Week festivities, and couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday. But he has said several times that the purpose of the Seattle Game is to reach the school’s substantial alumni base on the west side. The profit from ticket sales – CenturyLink has a capacity of 67,000, more than twice that of Martin Stadium – doesn’t hurt, either.

Coach Mike Leach, a newcomer to the conversation, has no problem making the trip.

“The state’s full of Cougar fans, and there’s more over there than any other area,” Leach said. “I’ve always been really impressed. Any time I drive through there, there’s Cougar flags everywhere. There’s flags all over the place, and so we need to get all those folks out there to the game and I think a lot of them come over here for the games.”

Not everyone has an opinion.

“I don’t care,” senior linebacker Travis Long said.

“We just get on a plane and go play wherever they tell us to go play,” Oregon coach Chip Kelly said. “We play away games and I ask our director of football ops what time the plane’s leaving. I don’t think about anything other than that.”