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Apple Cup revolt: It's time for UW, WSU to join forces

Some genius scheduled this year's Apple Cup for the Friday after Thanksgiving. In Pullman. When all of the students are home for Thanksgiving break.

By Art Thiel

November 20, 2012.

Scroll down for "Two Minutes with Thiel," an exclusive video segment from Crosscut contributor Art Thiel. 

Whichever genius thought that playing the Apple Cup in Pullman at noon the day after Thanksgiving was a good idea, has to have been the the same guy who invented burlap underwear.

How oblivious, dimwitted, insensitive, reckless and addled. How did this person avoid being a contender for the Republican presidential nomination?Description: http://sportspressnw.com/wp-includes/js/tinymce/plugins/wordpress/img/trans.gif

In the 104 previous meetings between Washington and Washington State, there have been moments glorious and grotesque (I'm thinking here of ex-UW athletic director Barbara Hedges being beaned by airborne dog poop), words profound and profane, and lots of splutter and fulmination.

But never in the state's longest-running cultural tradition (admittedly a modest list) has there been a planned idea so devoid of even a sub-atomic particle of sense.

Hey, Pac-12 Conference and your infernal network — IT'S THANKSGIVING WEEKEND! THE STUDENTS ARE ON HOLIDAY! SCHOOL'S CLOSED! ABOUT 42 PEOPLE OTHERWISE LIVE IN PULLMAN, AND THEY CAN'T TAKE IN GUESTS BECAUSE THEY ALREADY HAVE CELLMATES! AND THE CROSS-STATE NIGHT DRIVE FROM SEATTLE IN LATE NOVEMBER MAKES THE PARIS-TO-DAKAR RALLY LOOK LIKE THE DRIVE-THRU LINE AT WENDY'S!

Back to lower case. I realize that the safety and comfort of fans who enjoy supporting the state's biggest, best annual event with their ticket-buying money and full-throated passion in the stands are of minuscule concern relative to the financial majesty of the Pac-12 Network, the demon spawn of the unholy alliance between big-time colleges and big-time sports networks.

So . . . why not just turn the game into arena football? Play it indoors in August, midweek, 5,000 seats at $1,000 per, and 67-56 final scores (oh, wait, that was the Alamo Bowl last year; but you get the point). The nets need the filler, y'know?

Look, I get the part about the value of the windfall that came to the Pac-12 this year — $3 billion over 12 years, mostly from ESPN and Fox, the latter of which will televise the Apple Cup nationally. That's more than $20 million per year per school at a time of financial crisis for many schools, plus the exposure. I get it.

But that doesn't have to mean everything is surrendered to the nets that dictate to the conference office. Much deserved praise has come the way of Commissioner Larry Scott for the deal's significance. But, fergawdsakes, he didn't have to give away Grandma and the dog.

I hope WSU AD Bill Moos and his UW counterpart, Scott Woodward, privately waged a ferocious battle to avoid the sellout, and remain silent only because the code of omerta bears upon them when joining a gang, mob or cartel. I doubt they battled much, but I can't expect them to accept the risk of a bloody mascot head in their bedsheets.

When asked about the sellout, everyone around both schools just seems to shrug: "It's what the network wants." Well, wait a minute. Each school's president, board and athletic director agreed to terms and conditions. It wasn't like the imposition of Pac-12 martial law, or anything.  

I asked Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian this week if, after the season, he was sufficiently annoyed — and he is annoyed — with the dictates of TV that he would offer his opinion that something needs to be changed.

"I don't know what I get out of doing that," he said.  "I can control what we do, the way we practice, the way we prepare and I guess what we wear. I can't control what time we play, where we play, who the officials are. I can't control that stuff. And so I try not to waste too much time or my energy."

I understand that, but I don't agree with it. I imagine every one of his Pac-12 coaching colleagues (except Jeff Tedford at Cal, who doesn't have to care any more) is privately steamed. If, instead of rolling over, all 11 took a stand, it would get a sports nation's worth of attention.

It might have the added benefit of igniting a fire of consumer complaints over the unpredictable starting times of games, for which the TV ministers sometimes provide less than a week notice. For die-hard long-timers (read: rich donors) who pick among the six or seven fall Saturdays to buy plane tickets, reserve rooms, cars, RVs and boats and plot reunions, not knowing until the Monday before is beyond rude.

I understand that things change, and that the traditional era of a full season of 12:30 p.m. starts is over. I also understand that after the first year of any good partnership, both sides look at what went right and what went wrong, and often agree to make changes.

Instead of taking the slap, Sark, feel free to take offense. As a guy who repeatedly says he loves the pageantry and tradition of college football, here's one in your wheelhouse.

Art Thiel is co-founder of Sportspressnw.com, a former sports columnist for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and author of the 2003 regional best seller about the Seattle Mariners, Out of Left Field.

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Printed on November 23, 2014