The University of Washington and Washington State University are currently discussing the possibility of hosting the annual Apple Cup at Qwest Field, home of the Seahawks. The move could be part of a multi-year deal spanning as long as six years, the plan being that the game would be played on Thanksgiving weekend. While no decisions have been made and both schools are still contemplating the idea, the news has caused controversy in students and sports enthusiasts alike.
WSU have always played an exhibition game at Qwest Field early in their season. The contract that allows the school to play this game expires at the end of 2009, ending the school’s affiliation with Qwest Field’s parent company First & Goal. Jim Sterk, athletic director at WSU said, “We have annual discussions with First & Goal on ways to continue our relationship and enhance our presence statewide. As part of those discussions, I look at all avenues, with my overriding goal being the betterment of Cougar athletics and its student-athletes.”
Many members of WSU were upset that Sterk would even contemplate such a move, accusing both the AD and the school of being motivated by money. Harry Pharmer, a WSU alumni said, “This is a big ploy by both schools to get more money from the taxpayers to upgrade facilities.”
Following budget cuts, both schools are eager to find ways to increase their income, and it seems that moving the big game to Qwest Field would do just that.
The stadium holds 67,000 people and would guarantee each school $2 million each. This sum is substantially more than the $800,000 each the teams received when the game was played at Husky Stadium and the $240,000 they received when they played at Pullman.
Another problem that has hit the schools has been the prospect of sponsorship for the cup game. Boeing has sponsored the event since 2007 and it seems unlikely that major companies will have sufficient revenue to support the event.
Mike Lude, former athletic director at WSU, insists that while the prospect of economic gain through a relocation might seem attractive, negotiating with third parties is a “bad idea.” Lude also said that if he were still athletic director, the move would only happen over his dead body.
Some Husky fans support the proposal of a move though. One avid Husky, who wanted to remain anonymous, said, “It would be funny to see the Cougars have to come over here each year. Really funny.”
Rivalries aside, some Huskies support the move on the basis that it would rule out the demolition of Husky Stadium.
Qwest Field would no longer be a neutral arena if the Huskies played their home games at the venue. If the team was contracted to play the Apple Cup at Qwest Field, that would rule out the possibility of UW playing their football at the venue, ultimately making the renovation of Husky Stadium inevitable.
Even if Qwest Field does not become a regular host to the Huskies, WSU fans are adamant that the venue is still not a neutral location for the cup. Former WSU coach Jim Walden said that the Cougar’s win in the last Apple Cup, last November, wouldn’t have happened anywhere but Pullman. The cup has been played at home sites since 1980.
Joe Puckett, a former Husky, supports the idea of a move. “Both schools are impacted by a down economy, so if they can boost that economy by playing here, I think it’s a great idea,” he said.
Conversely, UW student Chris Paschall was opposed to the possibility of relocation for the cup, saying, “It’s all about going from one school to another, visiting your friends.”
While this move presents instant economic gratification, the resounding verdict seems to be that something far more important will be lost if discussions are acted upon: tradition. In a Spokane Spokesman-Review poll, an astounding 87 percent of respondents were opposed to the move.
Rick Neuheisel, former Washington coach, proposed Qwest as a venue for the cup during his time with the school. Perhaps in the near future his proposition will become reality.