Lewis: Apple Cup is here to stay – whether Cougs like it or not
Nov 20, 2023, 4:35 PM
(AP Photo/Young Kwak)
Washington State University and the University of Washington announced Sunday that the Apple Cup will continue for another five years. The rivalry game will be played at Lumen Field in 2024, with the schools splitting gate revenue, then alternate between Gesa Field in Pullman and Husky Stadium in Seattle through 2028.
The news was not a surprise. Continuing to play makes financial sense for WSU, which will lose at least $20 million in annual media revenue when the Pac-12 television deal expires next year. But a large segment of WSU fans were still not happy with the extension, criticizing the WSU administration on message boards and social media.
Brian Anderson, a writer at WSU SB Nation affiliate Cougcenter, wrote on X: “I too, am disgusted and not shocked by the (Apple Cup) extension. Need games on the schedule, want to keep a rivalry, make money on a Lumen gate…I get it, fine. Sometimes – just say no to bullies, there’s that part too. Walk away.”
Can anyone blame Cougs for wanting to walk away?
WSU fans are still furious about UW and Oregon’s decision to turn down Apple’s proposed Pac-12 television deal in August. The move forced the remaining conference members to flee to the Big 12 and ACC, but WSU and Oregon State were left without a Power Five conference because of their perceived media markets and remote locales.
Rather than immediately join the Mountain West, the Cougars and Beavers have opted to fight to keep a “Pac-2” alive. But UW has fought them at every turn. Last week, the university joined the other nine departing members in asking the Washington State Supreme Court to pause the Whitman County Court’s decision to give WSU and OSU control of the Pac-12’s board.
The court granted a preliminary stay preventing WSU and OSU from taking control of the conference’s assets, which reports estimate could top $400 million. They will either decide to hear an appeal or make a final decision on board control by the time the transfer portal opens Dec. 4.
So no, WSU fans aren’t super excited about continuing a rivalry they’ve won just 33 times in 114 tries – especially when UW is jeopardizing their ability to fund their athletic department.
On Monday, WSU coach Jake Dickert said he understood the frustration but ultimately wants the game to continue.
“We should never get to this point where we have to schedule out-of-conference games (with UW),” he said. “I understand both sides of the reaction. But when I step back and look at the 360-degree view, we’ve been playing for over 100 years. And that needs to continue.”
Regardless, the WSU athletic department had little choice. The Cougars need the Apple Cup to maximize the value of their media rights when they try to find a television partner when they play as the Pac-2 in 2024 and 2025.
“Working with Oregon State, we’ll have to package all of our home games with a TV partner for the next two years,” athletic director Pat Chun told Cougfan.com. “To have one rivalry game at home in that two-year window – to control the TV rights to that game – is important from a revenue standpoint, TV revenue and ticket sales … If there was no financial value (to the rivalry) we wouldn’t do it. This is a step forward.”
WSU athletics is also over $100 million in debt from a Martin Stadium renovation almost a decade ago, and they are fresh off their own scandal earlier this year when they were forced to fire their CFO and implement a temporary hiring freeze across athletics.
WSU president Kirk Schulz has previously said the school would need to pay back the $100 million in debt, but he wants to continue funding WSU football like a power conference program. The financial details of the Apple Cup agreement have not been made public yet, but it will likely pay out millions to both schools. WSU simply wasn’t in a position to turn that down.
They were not in a position to turn down multiple out-of-conference games with a Big 10 team, either. Before the Apple Cup announcement, WSU’s only three scheduled opponents in 2024 were Portland State, San Jose State and San Diego State. And 2025 wasn’t much better in terms of quality opponents.
Like it or not, the Apple Cup isn’t going anywhere, because money and television exposure is all that matters in college football. The only thing WSU can do now is pull off an upset or two so they are positioned well when the next cycle of realignment hits.
Adam Lewis is a freelance sportswriter in the Seattle area. He has previously worked at the SeattlePI.com, MLB.com and Sportspress Northwest. Follow him on social media here.
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