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Commentary: Why WSU interim AD Anne McCoy wants to keep Apple Cup rivalry with UW

Anne McCoy, Washington State University interim athletic director, photographed on May 30 at The Spokesman-Review offices.  (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
By Mike Vorel Seattle Times

SEATTLE – There are few more contentious subjects in Seattle sports than the Apple Cup.

Perhaps, now more than ever.

After all, the in-state series – which has featured 115 meetings in football alone – faces a fraught, uncertain future. That’s due, in large part, to the University of Washington – which opted to join the Big Ten Conference and leave the Pac-12 to be pillaged. Though most members scattered to the Big Ten, the Big 12 and the ACC, Washington State and Oregon State were left to rebuild on the ruins.

Relationships have been perhaps permanently bruised, but the Apple Cup will continue, with the programs agreeing last fall to a five-year continuation of the football series.

On Sept. 14, the Huskies and Cougars will meet as nonconference opponents at Lumen Field.

Same schools. New circumstances.

And though it may never be what it was, I believe a clumsy, bizarro Apple Cup is better than none at all. Though not a lifelong Husky or Coug, I’ve seen – via five seasons as The Times’ UW football beat writer – how much this series matters. Realignment has done devastating damage, but it’s worth attempting to preserve the persevering pieces of these programs’ shared past.

Not everyone agrees.

Understandably, there are fans on both sides who would prefer to bid adieu to the dented rivalry, who believe something essential cannot be reclaimed, who contend that both programs would benefit from a future without big or little brother.

So, why continue the Apple Cup?

Especially for the Cougs?

“When we talk about the consternation about continuing the game for some fans … I feel like that game should always cause stress and consternation for both of our fan bases,” WSU interim athletic director Anne McCoy told the Seattle Times Wednesday. “I just feel like, for the state of Washington, for the student-athletes and the fans at both schools, it was really important to continue it. I really do.

“For the foreseeable future, we envision playing that game, and I think it’s good for both universities that we do.”

It’s good for one reason in particular.

That’s right: revenue.

In a world where both schools are cash-strapped, and revenue may soon be extended to the athletes, the Apple Cup makes money. It unsurprisingly attracted a sellout (71,312) inside Husky Stadium last fall.

The method of revenue generation remains a sticking point. Technically, the cheapest ticket for this year’s game at Lumen Field ($94, including fees) is less costly than last year’s edition inside Husky Stadium ($107). But the most affordable seat between the end zones is $141, and there are far more club seats and suites – with additional dollar signs – at Lumen Field than either Husky Stadium or Pullman’s Martin Stadium (where the game would have been held had the Pac-12 not imploded).

Though the following four contests will return to the schools’ respective stadiums, this Lumen Field showcase has come with considerable sticker shock.

So, has the series devolved into little more than a moneymaking operation, or does it still have its soul? And why should a Coug fan drive across the state to pay for a pricey ticket?

“I think for our West Side Cougs it’s a chance to go to a game in their backyard, when they’re not spending money on gas or hotels or whatever else,” noted McCoy, who has worked in WSU’s athletic department since 2001. “And for the Pullman fans or the fans on the eastern side of the state or elsewhere, I just feel like the chance to come out and support the Cougs and road trip and just be a part of that experience. … I think it’s worth it, and I think it’s important.

“At the end of the day, we don’t set the price of the game (with First & Goal Inc., Lumen Field and UW all having input as well). It’s a partnership, if you will. But I think it’s worth it. I really do. I do.”

The punctured partnership between UW and WSU is further complicated by the presence of Pat Chun, who left his post as WSU’s athletic director to accept the same role at UW. After six years in Pullman, Chun chose to spearhead a department that’s partially responsible for the Pac-12’s disintegration.

After being abandoned by the Big Ten-bound Huskies, Chun boarded the bandwagon.

“It’s hard. I think if he was going to make a decision to leave Washington State, there’s no denying pretty much anybody would have loved that to be somewhere other than University of Washington,” McCoy said. “But again, I think that just speaks to the richness of the rivalry between the two schools. …

“I can’t do anything other than respect his decision and wish him well. We will continue to collaborate between the two schools, as they always have, and we will continue to want to beat them in everything we play them in. To some degree, things have changed, in that’s (there’s) a more familiar, known face (at UW) right now. But at the end of the day, I think how the two teams approach each other both in partnership and competition is spirited as always.”

“Spirited” is one word that still describes this series.

As circumstances change, will it stay that way?