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Originally published Friday, April 24, 2009 at 5:22 PM

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WSU won't seek Apple Cup at Qwest

A proposal to play the annual Apple Cup football game at Qwest Field in Seattle for the next six years is dead.

Associated Press Writer

SPOKANE, Wash. —

A proposal to play the annual Apple Cup football game at Qwest Field in Seattle for the next six years is dead.

The cross-state rivalry of the Apple Cup pits the University of Washington against Washington State University and the games have traditionally alternated between the schools' Seattle and Pullman home stadiums.

The two programs could not reach an agreement on how to divide up the tickets at Qwest, the 67,000-seat home of the Seattle Seahawks, officials said.

Washington wanted enough tickets for its entire season ticket base, which typically numbers more than 40,000, while Washington State insisted on an even distribution, officials said.

"Our student-athletes and Cougar fans would not be best served without this key component," WSU athletics director Jim Sterk said. "I was not going to continue following a path that was not in the best interest of WSU athletics, the university and our fans."

Washington spokesman Richard Kilwien said the Huskies did not want to exclude many of their season ticket holders from what is annually a very popular game.

"We wanted to accommodate every one of our season ticket holders at Qwest," Kilwien said, adding it was a mutual decision to break off the talks.

The Huskies have 37,750 season ticket renewals for the 2009 season and had 43,000 season ticket holders last year. Most likely, each team would have received about 31,000 tickets for distribution to season ticket holders if the game were played at Qwest, which is only about six miles from the UW's campus. The rest would have gone to students.

"There's a substantial gap there we couldn't come to resolution on," Kilwien said.

Sterk declined to go into detail about the dispute, except that it involved ticket distribution.

Washington State considers the idea closed, although Sterk said it might be explored again in the future.

The Cougars must still deal with ongoing financial issues, including likely financial shortfalls when the university announces how it will deal with budget cuts on May 1. State funds account for about 8 percent of the athletic department's $30 million budget, Sterk said.

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He said WSU needs to double its base of donors and find other ways to raise more money. Donors were split on whether the Apple Cup should be always played in Seattle, he said.

"I've had people say, `if you keep it in Pullman, I'll donate,'" Sterk said. "Believe me, I have those e-mail addresses."

The proposal, first floated last week, was unpopular with fans of both teams, who preferred the long-standing home-and-home arrangement of the long-running rivalry. Cougar supporters relish hosting the Huskies every other November in the chill of Pullman's Martin Stadium. They also worried that playing the game only in Seattle would give too much of an advantage to Washington.

Pullman merchants also complained loudly about the money they would lose from the lucrative Apple Cup week.

The idea was proposed by First & Goal, the operators of Qwest Field. The company offered each team as much as $2 million per year to play the game at Qwest.

The programs are buffeted by rising tuition for scholarship athletes and other costs, even as the economy takes a toll on ticket sales and donations.

Currently, each team gets $240,000 for games played in Pullman at 35,000-seat Martin Stadium and $800,000 for games played at 72,000-seat Husky Stadium.

Washington State plays an annual non-conference game at Qwest Field already, promoted by First & Goal, under a contract that is due to expire this year.

"We appreciate the relationship we have with First & Goal and will work with them to maintain WSU football's presence at Qwest Field," Sterk said.

Sterk had pushed for the Apple Cup move, saying the Cougars' athletic budget of $30 million was some $14 million less than the next lowest in the Pacific-10, Oregon State. This week he raised the idea that sports might be slashed, employees might be laid off, and WSU's membership in the elite league might even be jeopardized if more money wasn't raised.

Pullman, a town of about 25,000 people, is one of the most remote major conference college towns in the nation, and making enough money to compete in the Pac-10 is always a challenge.

With most of its alumni in the Puget Sound region - 300 miles from Pullman - Washington State has worked hard to connect with them in recent years. The Cougars' yearly football game at Qwest Field has drawn at least 45,000 fans in six of the seven years since it started. The Cougars also play an annual basketball home game in Seattle.

Washington State home games in the Apple Cup were played in Spokane from 1950-1980. The game returned to Pullman in 1982 after Martin Stadium was expanded.

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AP Sports Writer Tim Booth contributed to this story

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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