Unlike its football counterpart, the annual basketball game the Cougars play in Seattle is universally applauded. The Cougar Hardwood Classic has become a nice showcase for Washington State on the West side of the state. It has also fielded some of the largest "home" crowds in Cougar basketball history, and is now beginning to attract major conference opposition (see: LSU, last year). However, there is still going to be difficulty in getting big name opponents to agree to play the Cougs year in and year out at Key Arena - the opponent for the 2010 Hardwood Classic, for example, still appears to be up in the air.
Now, another issue: The first weekend of the Cougs' Pac-10 slate often falls while WSU students are on their winter vacation. Crowds are scarce, therefore, for the first one or two conference home games of the season. And I mean really scarce. Two years ago Husky players were pleasantly surprised by the lack of noise/people for the basketball Apple Cup, which they won handily. Last new year's eve, there would have been a full on riot had the Oregon officiating debacle actually happened in front of the student body (lucky for us, from a PR standpoint, it didn't). Friel Court is intimidating, and most importantly, loud, when Pac-10 teams come to play. Except when the students are out of town.
So here's the deal. Play the first weekend of the conference schedule every year at Key Arena. Obviously, this wouldn't apply to any Washington games, since it would essentially be giving the Dawgs another hometown game they don't really need (they schedule plenty on their own). This is a win-win: for WSU, who should routinely draw crowds of at least seven or eight thousand for games of this magnitude, and a win for Key Arena, who desperately needs new tenants in the wake of the Sonics' departure. Even if one of the games is a Thursday nighter, WSU should have a solid presence. Sure, you could have Oregon or Oregon State fans creep up from the South, but without a doubt the vast majority of fans would be in Crimson, and the atmosphere would be unmatched.
WSU could keep the Hardwood Classic too. Why? Well, for one, roughly half of all Cougar alums reside in Western Washington. So there's a big enough fanbase to draw from, especially with students on break. And while saturating the market with three games instead of one may cause the Cougars to draw less than 10,000, I have another solution to keep the crowds strong and raucus: increase the allotment of student seating. If the Cougs do this - and are serious about maintaining homecourt advantage - they need to stop cramming the ZZU CRU in one solitary section on the baseline. Make it as 'real' a college venue as possible, by giving students some serious real estate, similar to what they have in Beasley. To appease Pullmanites and Season Ticket holders, include it in the season ticket package, but as an optional game. If you don't want to attend, decline your seats by a certain date and you can get a credit for the price. There should still be enough home games in Pullman to keep everyone happy.
I don't see any reason this wouldn't be a good idea for WSU, especially now that Ken Bone puts such a large emphasis on recruiting the Seattle Metro area. This would only help us plant a huge Crimson flag in the middle of Seattle, and move us ever so slightly away from our "small market" stereotype.
Just think about it, Bill Moos.