Apple Cup furor: Fans should look in mirror

EVERY COUGAR FAN who is upset that the Apple Cup game in all likelihood will be held in Seattle's Qwest Field for six straight years (and perhaps more?) starting in 2010 needs to take a long look in the mirror before spitting nails at athletic director Jim Sterk. He's going to make this move for one reason: The crimson faithful haven't stepped up to the plate financially.

Here's the painful reality.

WSU ranks dead last, by a long ways, among all Pac-10 and Big Ten schools in total donations to athletics. WSU is last in the number of individual donors to athletics, and last in the size of each donation to athletics. No matter how you slice it, fellow Cougs, the simple reality is that we're not pulling our weight. And when that happens, leaders have to get creative.

That's why Sterk is serious about doing what, on its face, seems crazy. Sterk himself says his initial reaction to the Qwest notion was dismissive.


But reality sobers the senses. To compete in the Pac-10, WSU needs to step up its financial game.

That requires donors. The Cougs don't have enough (about 6,000) and the ones they do have aren't contributing at the same levels as their Pac-10 brethren.

Moreover, consider that Sterk has been trying for four years to find one or two crimson partisans to supercharge the Martin Stadium remodel with donations in the realm of naming rights (i.e. $10 million to $15 million for the stadium and $5 million for the field). And yes, he's tried Paul Allen.

Zip. Nada. Zilch.

So when Allen's company that runs Qwest Field knocks on Sterk's door and offers close to $2 million per year in additional revenue to play the Apple Cup in Seattle, the AD is going to listen.

Right now, each school makes about $240,000 when the Cup is played at Martin Stadium and $800,000 when played at Husky Stadium.

With the Qwest agreement, says Sterk, WSU would earn roughly $10 million of new revenue "for moving essentially three games from Pullman to Qwest. In addition, we wouldn't have to set foot into Husky Stadium."

The benefits, Sterk notes, can be far-reaching. "The revenue that would be gained will assist us with improving all aspects of our department. Revenues can assist in funding of Phase III of the stadium renovation, and can be applied toward work on other facilities. In addition, football supports all of the non-revenue sports in the department and those sports would benefit from the increased revenue brought in."

In other words, moving the Apple Cup to Qwest Field would fill the void created by WSU fans' lack of financial support for athletics.

The reasons for that lack of support are several. One falls on WSU itself for not adequately educating alums about the state of the financial situation relative to the competition. Efforts have stepped up significantly in recent years, but such a communication process takes years to build on and WSU wasn't aggressive enough early on.

Hand in hand with that education process is the asking process. Too few Cougs over the years have been asked directly to donate. If the need is explained and then the ask is made in person, my sense is that Cougars will open their pocketbooks. Whether big or small doesn't matter.

There's also another, more painful force at work: It's the "I-want-a-BMW-but-will-only-pay-for-a-Ford Taurus" mentality of some Cougar fans. These are people who are outraged that we can't beat Oregon State and stunned if we lose to Arizona. These folks will come out of the woodwork to make sure the Space Needle is painted crimson and that Cougar license plates rule the road. And that's great. But when it comes to making a donation to athletics, they take a pass because they think they've done their part.

To them and to the entire Cougar Nation, I have one response: We're not doing enough.

WSU has always been leaner and meaner than the competition. But such grit can close the gap only so far. Consistent, competitive excellence requires money. It doesn't mean matching up with USC's largesse or even Washington's. But it does mean doing much more than we're doing now.

If you want to make sure the Apple Cup game returns to Pullman when the Qwest contract expires, send Jim Sterk an email pledging your financial support for athletics. Make a five-year commitment of $5,000 a year. Or $1,000 a year -- or $250 if that's what you can manage. That would send a far more powerful message to him than complaints about the Qwest Field plan.