I've witnessed the UW-WSU rivalry first-hand for virtually my entire life, having grown up in the Seattle area as a Husky fan, then having become a Coug upon my graduation from high school.
And while it gets intense for fans of the teams on the field, the administrations, for the most part, have generally seen it as little more than good-natured fun. While there has always been a little bit of an uneasiness between the two institutions given the natural differences in size and location, both always ultimately realized that as the state's two largest -- and only research -- universities, they would accomplish far more by working together than by fighting against each other.
Those times appear to be gone as each school clamors for what it sees as its piece of the ever-shrinking economic pie.
First, there was the news that the Apple Cup at Qwest Field negotiations were dead. More than $20 million was left on the table not over some kind of major sticking point, but over UW's insistence that it receive 7,000 additional seats to placate upset season ticket holders. While 7,000 might not seem like much, that's a little more than 10 percent of all the seats available and represented a nearly 25 percent increase over UW and WSU's already agreed-upon allotments. Not surprisingly, it was an absolute deal-breaker for a university already sending its football team into its opponent's back yard.
If that Apple Cup deal was as far down the road as we're all led to believe -- that it was all but signed on the dotted line -- the arrogance shown by the University of Washington in torpedoing this deal with a request that went against one of the basic tenets of the agreement had to leave WSU administrators absolutely steaming. (Although, you'd never know it from the press release.)
Now, on the heels of Senate Bill 6116 never seeing the light of day for a vote in the state senate before the legislative session ended on Sunday, the University of Washington is ratcheting up the rhetoric even further.
In this story by Bob Condotta at the Seattle Times, UW athletics director Scott Woodward said that he doesn't think the small group of Cougar fans who vocally opposed the bill ultimately caused its demise -- he blames the "disconnect" many felt in trying to reconcile public money going to stadiums when basic services are being slashed.
It didn't stop him, though, from firing a couple of salvos in the direction of Pullman:
"The most disappointing thing about it is that [WSU president] Elson Floyd and [WSU athletic director] Jim Sterk didn't do anything to try to contain that little group of Cougars that were out there doing that. It was a shame that they didn't show leadership or courage to curtail something like that."
That's right: The AD of the University of Washington just went to the press and called your AD and school president cowards.
Woodward said he had hoped the administration at WSU might support the bill — or at least try to dampen the protests against it — on the theory that if UW had gotten funding for its project, it would set a precedent that would allow the Cougars to get money at a later time.
"I talked to Jim about it and he made it clear that his president wasn't going to interfere with what his alums did, even if it was to his detriment or to the health of his department," Woodward said.
"It makes all the sense in the world that whenever you help someone, it helps the other. If this were hurting the Cougars, I wouldn't have even sailed it. You can't go into the legislature [with a proposal] and hurt another program. It doesn't pay to do that and I don't believe in it philosophically because I think all of our members in the Pac-10 should be strong. I'm a believer that a rising tide lifts all boats and if it would have helped us, it would have helped them."
So, let me recap: Woodward says that the reason the bill failed had nothing to do with the Cougs -- calling those fans nothing more than "an irritant" -- then uses a conversation that presumably was intended to remain private to take the WSU administration to task for not stepping in to stop the thing he just said had nothing to do with the bill not passing.
Is anyone else sensing another kind of "disconnect" here? Perhaps misplaced anger?
Look -- as anyone who read my piece last week knows, I agree with Woodward's basic tenets as outlined above. He's right. But what in the world is he thinking saying what he said? It's completely counterproductive, the height of irony and absolutely smacks of bitterness.
I don't know Woodward personally, but in watching the way he's handled his business since becoming UW athletics director I can only come to the conclusion that he is colossally arrogant with a bit of prickishness mixed in for good measure. He's a politician through and through -- just take a quick glance at what his responsibilities were at LSU -- so it shouldn't surprise anyone that slinging mud is what comes naturally to him. What a classless move to air out his counterpart in this way, not to mention stupid -- these are the very people who can help you get a measure like this passed in the future. People who are not to blame for your failure this year.
We truly have entered a new era in this rivalry -- one in which it no longer exists just on the fields and courts. And it's not a good thing. Let's hope our schools don't take each other down while the rest of the Pac-10 dances on our graves.