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

Blanchette: With Apple Cup sacked, maybe it’s time to reexamine priorities, or at least that Dec. 19 opening

WSU fans react as the clock runs out on the Cougars late in the fourth quarter of the Apple Cup in November 2016 at Martin Stadium in Pullman.  (Tyler Tjomsland/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
By John Blanchette For The Spokesman-Review

They canceled the Apple Cup?

Man, where was this pandemic when Mike Leach needed it?

What’s that you say? Too soon? Too petty? Too cruel?

Salt in the wound? Another gratuitous sledgehammer blow to fractured hearts? No time for wisecracks, especially at Washington State’s expense?


But this is no time for college football, either. Not around here.

They’ll resume playing it anyway, of course. There are bills to pay. This college football season was never about anything else.

But for the time being at WSU, player availability has been compromised by positive tests for COVID-19 and the ensuing protocols for contact tracing – this on top of injuries and an uncommon number who opted out of the season altogether due to concern about the virus, or who beat feet to the NCAA transfer portal for their own reasons.

On Friday, the school pulled out of its Saturday game at Stanford because it couldn’t put 53 scholarship players on the plane, a Pac-12 guideline, though schools can choose to play shorthanded. And it came as little surprise when the announcement came Sunday that the annual showdown with Washington on Friday in Pullman was off, too.

Out here in Pac-12 country, the scorecard now reads 13 scheduled games played, seven canceled – “no contest” in conference lexicon.

Hey, that’s a 65% success rate! Not too shabby!

There is a bitter irony that the conference which got bullied into playing the season because everyone else had plunged ahead has had the integrity of its schedule hit hardest by COVID cancellations.

Blame for that – and for nearly everything these days except the virus itself – gets ladled on commissioner Larry Scott, as the conference foot-dragged its return by a week or more.

Otherwise, the Pac-12 would have squeezed in a few more games.

Which doesn’t mean the Apple Cup wouldn’t still be missing from the weekend, along with grandma and grandpa and Aunt Tootie coming for Thanksgiving.

This is, yes, just another bummer from the good folks who gave us the year 2020. Our sporting amusements have been postponed, repackaged, truncated, quarantined or canceled since March, and for more than good reason. Still, something like the Apple Cup always seemed inviolate, having been on pretty much the same weekend for the past 70 years.

The last interruption was for World War II in 1943 and 1944. The next year, the Cougars played the Huskies twice. But then, they played everyone in the neighborhood – Idaho, Oregon, Oregon State – twice. Belts had been tightened for the war and were being loosened one notch at a time.

Maybe we understood sacrifice better then.

More recently, the game with rival Washington has been less anticipated, the Cougars having lost seven straight under Leach’s hand and none of them particularly close. But at least a coaching change in Pullman promised a new urgency – heck, the new guy, Nick Rolovich, even installed a countdown clock to the Apple Cup in the locker room by way of demonstrating his priorities.

So, did they just hit the snooze button or unplug it altogether?

Though the Pac-12 release said the game “will not be played,” rescheduling is a possibility. UW athletic director Jen Cohen’s statement included this: “We will work with the Pac-12 to prioritize this game and look into any opportunities to play it should there be an open date for both schools down the road.”

Well, there’s one open date already – maybe.

That would be Dec. 19, providing the Huskies don’t qualify for the Pac-12 championship game the night before. Technically, you could include the Cougars in that stipulation, too, but there would have to be help-a-comin’ – what with the loss to front-runner Oregon already in hand.

But if that falls through and they’re truly determined to play and preserve this grand tradition, why not make it a postseason game?

Yes, it’s fraught with complications. Bowl season for the Power 5 lodge begins the weekend after that Pac-12 title game. There are contractual tie-ups among conferences to finesse. Two of the Pac-12’s destination bowls have already pulled the plug, and another teeters. The conference champ isn’t going to give up a New Year’s Six bowl or risk squeezing in a makeup game before taking that stage. And, naturally, the Pac-12 has slapped down the requirement that any of its teams with bowl aspirations play .500 football.

So maybe it’s not a bowl.

College football’s headlong obsession with getting this season in – however rejiggered or risky – has revealed almost limitless possibilities in changing on the fly. Games cobbled together on 48 hours notice, kickoff times pushed back, playing on Sunday. Why not bow out of a bowl game that didn’t exist 10 minutes ago – letting a conference fellow take your place – to keep a good thing going?

Besides, compared to a mid-level (or worse) bowl game, would there be a more compelling pairing than Washington and Washington State?

Nah. The idea’s too fantastic even for this misbegotten season.

Looks like it’s Dec. 19 or bust. So Cougar fans are left to root against Washington the rest of the way.

At least that’s something which comes naturally, even in this most unnatural time.