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So, Athletic Director Jim Sterk had one of those Cougar Chats today. Normally, they run the gamut from mildly boring to extremely boring.

Not today.

How about this bombshell?

In the 1960s WSU's membership in the conference was at stake and only a close vote saved the school from being ousted from the conference. The Pac-10 is one of the most prestigious conferences in the country and allows the WSU athletics program and the university's academic programs to be on the same field and classrooms as Stanford, UC-Berkeley, USC, etc. The athletics program at WSU is the only way this membership is achieved.

Our annual budget is currently $14 million below the next lowest member in the conference. If we do not take action to create revenue and level this playing field, we may be at some point in the future be facing another vote. I will do everything that I can on my watch to prevent such an action. This is why I am pushing for Phase III of the renovation and am considering the Apple Cup move.

Um, come again?

In some respects, I find this a little hard to believe and place it in the scare tactic category, given how recently we've won conference championships in football and how good our basketball team has been recently. As long as we're competitive, there shouldn't be an issue.

But don't let the point be lost -- we have to do more with less in just about every respect at WSU, and that gap is only going to grow unless some alums with some cash start ponying up. And the more that gap grows, the harder it's going to be to stay competitive with the rest of the conference.

The only problem is, apparently Sterk is hamstrung when it comes to asking potential donors for cash:

Alumni may not know this, but until they express interest by making a donation to athletics or a recorded ticket purchase, WSU Athletics cannot contact these people for support. Each college has a relationship with their recent graduates and only that particular college can contact that individual until they express interest in athletics. As of last year, our Athletic Foundation membership totaled 6,185, which is last in the Pac-10. If we could grow this number to 15-20 thousand annual members, iIt would significantly address some of our financial challenges.

That is the most absurd thing I've ever heard. I'm guessing it's done to protect the donations to the academic colleges, but that's just plain ridiculous.

So, here's what I take away from this: This is a cry for help.

Since he can't directly solicit potential donors unless they've already given to the program, this is the best way he knows how to get his message out there. This goes a little bit along with this Cougfan piece earlier in the week, saying we only have ourselves to blame for the Apple Cup move to Qwest.

Sterk insists the Qwest move is not a leverage play in order to motivate people to donate; I believe him. But if the furor over this move allows him to get the message out, then that's a fantastic benefit. I, for one, had no idea the disparity was that large. I also was unaware until recently of the contributions to the athletic budget from the university's general fund. There is some serious educating that still needs to go on among Coug fans. It's time for all of us to start opening our wallets.

Could we really be voted out of the Pac-10? I don't think it's something that's imminent. But Sterk is probably right -- unless we start to close the gap between us and the rest of the conference, this is probably going to become an issue a lot sooner than we all want to admit.

Hat tip to SeantheCoug for the heads up via e-mail on the transcript, and sorry for stealing GoCougs' thunder on his FanPost.