The reaction to the news Thursday afternoon that WSU would be playing a "neutral site" game against Gonzaga in the Spokane Arena next year was swift -- and overwhelmingly negative.
Undoubtedly caught off guard by the timing, Athletics Director Bill Moos -- who typically likes to control the message on these sorts of things -- promptly dispatched Pravda to set the record straight for those of us who had the audacity to think that this sort of thing could possibly be his idea.
Gonzaga ... threatened to end the annual battle a year ago unless WSU agreed to play two of three games in Spokane, a source tells Cougfan.com. ...
While Bill Moos was tempted to tell the Zags to pound sand, he felt the tradition of the series -- which dates to 1907 and includes 148 games -- trumped Gonzaga's petty power play.
The source, who asked not to be identified, said that Gonzaga coach Mark Few and athletic director Mike Roth presented a "take it or leave it" proposition.
Cougar fans who also consider themselves Gonzaga fans have given me a lot of flak over the years for my very public disdain for Few and his program. They can't understand why I don't love those lovable Bulldogs.
Well, now y'all know. This sort of thing ain't new for the Zags.
Honestly, though, I'm not even mad at Gonzaga -- at least, not any more than usual. They're making the most of their 15 minutes of relevance, and I can't begrudge them that.
No, what really irritates me is that WSU is even in a position to be bent over like this in a negotiation by a school that needed WSU a lot more than WSU needed it for 95 years.
Because if one thing is abundantly clear, it's this: WSU now needs Gonzaga. And that sure is annoying.
I don't believe for one second that Moos preserved this "rivalry" -- which hasn't been much of one, with WSU winning 95 of the first 133 and Gonzaga now winning 12 of the last 15 -- out of some sense of tradition. Moos is the guy who famously kept a No Bowl Ticket list for people who sent mean emails criticizing his football coach, and he supposedly "took the high road" here over something as warm and fuzzy as "tradition"?
You want to know how precious this tradition is to WSU? After winning roughly three of every four games for 80 years, the Cougs ended the series in 1988 and didn't play the Bulldogs again until 1995.
What, you didn't remember that six-year hiatus? Apparently Pravda also forgot about it: "WSU vs. Gonzaga is good for both schools and the region. These neighbors have been playing each other since 1907. It's a rivalry that absolutely should be preserved."
You want to hear about another "rivalry"? WSU has played Idaho 122 more times than it's played Gonzaga! It started a whole year earlier! If the Vandals asked for a neutral-site game in Coeur d'Alene (just go with me here) to go along with the home-and-home, you think Moos would wait long enough to laugh before hanging up the phone, or do you think he'd just slam it down right away?
Agreeing to this with Gonzaga isn't about tradition. This almost certainly is about what it's almost always about.
WSU has a ton of trouble scheduling quality opponents in Pullman. Nobody wants to come ... except for Gonzaga, which WSU agreed to start playing again when the Bulldogs were OK, but before they got real good. Fortunately for them, they went on that crazy run in 1999 and have stayed somewhere between pretty good and very good ever since. Factor in geographic proximity, and it became a no-brainer to play an annual home and home series in an arrangement that made a lot of sense for both schools: Gonzaga got to beef up that strength of schedule that takes an annual hit when the Bulldogs run roughshod through the perennially weak WCC, and WSU got a big game to Pullman.
A big game that sells a lot of tickets.
Since we already know to what lengths Moos will go in order to sell some more tickets and make a buck, is it any surprise that he caved to Gonzaga's demands in order to keep the game?
The interesting thing is that WSU isn't getting rich off the matchup, as basketball attendance isn't a huge moneymaker for WSU. After kicking around the numbers with some people, we guesstimate that WSU makes somewhere between $60,000 and $70,000 on a mostly full to full Beasley Coliseum. If it seems like WSU should make more than that, remember the student section can take up about a third of the seats.
Unless there's a better explanation that I haven't thought of, what this decision says about WSU is simple: The athletic department isn't in a position to turn its nose up at the 50 grand it'll pull above and beyond what it would get for Directional State University replacement game.
When you're paying a pair of coaches $2.25 million for each of the next two years, I suppose every bit helps.
In that sense, I understand why this was agreed to. I'm also not going to sit here on some high horse and tell you that WSU's hands are perfectly clean in this either; beyond the hiatus under Kelvin Sampson, the last four Gonzaga "home" games before the break were played at the Spokane Coliseum, and the first three Gonzaga "home" games after the series was renewed were played in the Spokane Arena, all presumably at the behest of WSU. And when the Cougars stepped foot on the floor of The Kennel in 2001, it was the first time WSU had played Gonzaga on its campus since 1977. I'm sure WSU had a lot to do with that 24-year gap.
But you know what? That's how it's supposed to work. WSU has the larger athletic department. WSU belongs to the larger conference. WSU is supposed to be higher on the food chain. WSU is supposed to dictate the terms with midmajors that play in glorified high school gyms.
Instead, at a time when we're constantly being told by our leadership that we are building WSU into a first-rate athletic program, we got jerked around by an entitled little twerp and his AD.
First-rate athletic departments tell upstart punks like Gonzaga to kick rocks. That's what Washington did.
At WSU? Even the mighty Bill Moos just has to bite his lip and take it to make a few extra bucks.
The only thing that gives me peace is that I know Moos won't ever forget this, and if his chance at payback doesn't come around before he retires, I'm sure his presumed successor, Mike Marlow, won't forget about it either. And when Gonzaga's 15 minutes run out, I can't wait until the Bulldogs are left with this choice.
"Two games in Pullman for every one at the Spokane Arena. Take it or leave it."