Stop scheduling Apple Cups

I, for one, will not enjoy getting our faces kicked in every year by the folks who put us in the position to get our faces kicked in.

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When my kids have an overtly impassioned response to life, my wife and I have this thing that we say: “I can see that you’re having big feelings right now …”

It’s designed to both acknowledge the intensity of their emotions while also signaling to them that, hey, you’re perhaps being a little over the top in this moment and maybe we could dial it back a few notches so that we can all have a reasonable conversation about this situation.

Folks, I am having some BIG FEELINGS about the arrangement that was announced for the 2024 Apple Cup and beyond. And I’m not sure I can “dial it back a few notches” in order to “have a reasonable conversation” about it.

To say that I hate it with the fire of 10,000 suns is to underestimate my hate for this thing by about a 999,999,999,999,999 suns. I’m not just pissed beyond belief that we will now play three away from home in the next five — meaning just one Apple Cup will have been played in Pullman from 2019-2024, which I am, indeed, extremely pissed about.

I’m incensed that we are continuing this series at all. 

It would be one thing if WSU had ended up in this situation organically as part of a coordinated consolidation of the sport. I’ve long believed that the writing was on the wall for us to get “relegated,” so to speak, at some point — and I had made my peace with it.

But that’s not what happened here.

Washington blew up the Pac-12 with its decision to bolt for the Big Ten at the 11th hour. The Huskies operated in bad faith with the rest of the conference as it negotiated its own golden parachute behind closed doors, eventually inviting Oregon to come along, which then triggered the rest of the departures.

Washington is the defendant in pending litigation for control of conference’s assets — the only school to send its own lawyer to Colfax last week and have the audacity to suggest that WSU and Oregon State are actually the greedy ones who must be stopped.

If there’s anyone who deserves all the bad press that can be mustered during this week in particular, it is Washington. Instead, we handed them an enormous PR win by allowing them to look like the good guys for deigning to continue to play us.

Washington would like you to believe that this moment was inevitable, that they had no choice but to leave for the Big Ten, that everyone here (including, somehow, them?) is the unfortunate victim of the Shifting Landscape Of College Athletics.

That’s a lie. They did this. On purpose. And they absolutely did not have to do it. Don’t let any of those jerks gaslight you into thinking it isn’t what it is.

Washington carried out an assassination in broad daylight, killing the Pac-12, and, by extension, severely crippling WSU’s athletics program.

And I’m now somehow supposed to be thrilled that the gunman has stopped shooting at us long enough to hand us a band-aid to cover the gaping hole that already exists in our chest?

Before he, yanno … resumes shooting at us?

That is why I never want to play those jerks ever again. I want to go about my life, making my peace with what Cougar athletics will become, living out the rest of my days without ever having to hear from another Husky in my lifetime about what a shame it is what happened to WSU in one breath, and then hear about how they won another Apple Cup, and gee whiz aren’t rivalries so much fun???

I recognize that many people do not see it this way. I know that many out there are satisfied with continuing their annual tradition of paying attention to one game a year, getting gussied up for a week at work in advance of trading light barbs with their Husky fan coworkers, who will then gently tease them the following Monday after yet another blowout.

I envy those folks. I really do. Because at this point, I only associate the Apple Cup with pain, having learned to loathe the experience. Winning just one in the last nine and only two in the last 12 — one of the worst stretches of ineptitude in series history1 — has caused me to decide that sitting solo in my basement, drinking the best tasting beer I can find because I know it’s likely to be the only enjoyment of the afternoon, is the most palatable way to experience the game.

It wasn’t always this way.

The 2008 “Crapple” Cup victory capped a run of four wins in five games for the Cougs, the only time that’s ever happened. And while I didn’t believe that we had somehow magically evened the field against Washington, the annual contest felt like it had gotten to the point where it was a fair fight, and that the previous century’s history wasn’t all that relevant anymore. From 1982 — when WSU moved its home Apple Cups from Spokane to Pullman — up until Nico Grasu kicked the game winner in the second OT, it was Washington 16 wins, WSU 11. Not bad!

But then … the last decade. This recent slide has coincided with, objectively, the longest run of sustained success in Cougar football history. But not even mighty Gardner Minshew could come close to beating the Huskies.2 That one broke me. It’s depressing as hell to know that some of our best teams not only couldn’t win, but couldn’t even actually come close.

(Except, of course, for 2021. All it took then was Washington’s coach getting fired midseason and the Huskies starting a true freshman at QB who ended up transferring to Cal Poly play for Paul Wulff, where he has continued to be a pretty bad quarterback!)

Now that Washington will have exponentially more resources to fund its excesses while we simply try keep the lights on, it’s hard to imagine how this doesn’t get so, so much worse. Washington already has won 70% of the games in the series history; with the field tilted more heavily to their side than it ever has been — think about that! — what’s a reasonable expectation for the frequency of positive outcomes going forward? Once every 10 years? Every 15? Every 20?

If the series even continues that long?

In just my time as a Coug, I’ve danced on the 50-yard line at Husky Stadium as Ryan Leaf was carried off, watched Jared Karstetter hauling in a deep pass from Kevin Lopina right in front of me to send UW to 0-12, witnessed Trandon Harvey streaking down the sideline, and celebrated Toni Pole rumbling toward the end zone. I will cherish those memories until I die, because I know I’m unlikely to see them again.

We have six Apple Cups from now until the expiration of this deal. Maybe we’ll be competitive on Saturday — Washington’s gotta lose a close game at some point, right? — but there’s a pretty decent chance we get murdered in the other five, considering the mass exodus of talent that is likely heading our way after this season.

Will it have been worth it to say that we continued the series?

I’m sure it will be worth it to Kirk Schulz and Pat Chun. Part of their job is to pay the bills, and this will help do that. Two games in Pullman will goose season ticket sales and it will be great for the local economy and probably even pretty ok for continuing to prop up applications to the school. I’m also going to assume that season ticket holders will get first dibs for the game at Lumen Field, or maybe it even will be included in season tickets. I get it.

The terms of this deal should also tell you a lot about how badly UW needed to do something to take the heat off in the court of public opinion this week — under the circumstances, it’s a pretty great arrangement for WSU, which had no leverage in this beyond the optics. As hard as it is to swallow, and ridiculous as the spin has been by them since the announcement, I understand that Schulz and Chun had to do it.

I also still hate it. Because that’s the difference between being a university administrator and being me: I don’t have to care about that. All I care about is whether continuing to play the Apple Cup adds to my joy as a Coug and helps us move forward from this hellish reality we find ourselves in.

And I really don’t see any way that it does.

If we’re going to play a body bag game, I’d rather not give them the satisfaction.

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