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Originally published Friday, April 17, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Majority opposes moving Apple Cup to Qwest Field

Former UW athletic director Mike Lude calls possible shift of Apple Cup to Qwest Field "a tragedy."

Seattle Times staff reporter

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At his home in Arizona, Mike Lude didn't have to spend much time weighing the merits of the Apple Cup possibly moving from home sites to Qwest Field.

"If I were still the athletic director," said the man who once was AD at Washington, "they'd have to do it over my dead body.

"It would be a tragedy."

Lude's reaction was only slightly stronger than that of most fans and some key figures from the rivalry's storied past. The responses came after the revelation that Washington and Washington State are deep in negotiations that could move the annual game to Thanksgiving weekend as part of a six-year deal.

The topic is a hot button on both sides. The Times story posted on its Web site Wednesday at 9:43 p.m. generated 80 comments before 9 a.m. Thursday — in other words, overnight.

By 7 p.m. Thursday, of 4,000 respondents to a Times poll, 51 percent said the proposed move is a "bad idea," 30 percent said they were "all for it," and 19 percent were OK with it "once in a while." A Spokane Spokesman-Review poll found 87 percent of its respondents were against the idea.

Athletic directors at both schools opted not to discuss the matter, citing ongoing negotiations with First & Goal, the parent company of Qwest Field.

The programs currently split revenue, realizing about $240,000 apiece when the game is played in Pullman and $800,000 when it is played in Seattle. Officials at WSU and UW have cited a financial boost varying from $6 million to $10 million apiece over the six-year life of the proposed deal, accruing primarily from slightly more than 30,000 tickets sold to each side.

Each school seeks new revenue amid difficult budgetary times and state cuts.

Lude, athletic director at Washington from 1976 to 1991, questioned the finances, pointing out costs in stadium rental and probable loss of concessions and parking revenue.

"I know about negotiating with third parties," Lude said. "It's a bad idea.

"It grieves me to think that those two institutions, with the great rivalry ... after all, it IS intercollegiate athletics."

Lude was at Washington the last time the Apple Cup was played off campus. From 1956 through 1980, WSU "hosted" games in Spokane, before a stadium expansion enabled the Cougars to take it back to Pullman in 1982.

Sam Jankovich was WSU athletic director then, and led that charge, backed by coach Jim Walden.

"I think a great rivalry belongs on campus," Jankovich said Thursday, citing the benefits to showing off the institution that particular weekend.

Washington State won that 1982 game in perhaps the biggest upset of the series, 24-20, and, as Walden noted, WSU has been much more competitive playing the game in Pullman than it was in Spokane. Washington had a 10-3 edge in those 13 Spokane games before 1982, while the Huskies are 6-8 since then at WSU.

"Personally, I'm against it," said Walden, who added he is sympathetic to WSU athletic director Jim Sterk's effort to increase revenue.

Added Walden, "Believe me, the ballgame they just got done winning [the Cougars won in double overtime last November], they would not have won anywhere else but Pullman. The emotion, that whole energy was what kept hope alive."

Some Washington fans would prefer not to have to travel to Pullman, but that doesn't include Brock Huard, the ex-UW quarterback.

Huard, a co-host on 710 ESPN, the new sports-talk radio station in Seattle, said he "absolutely" valued the experience of playing in Pullman, "from the locker room to the fans, to staying in Moscow [Idaho], to flying into Lewiston ... that's what makes this rivalry so incredible, that it's two universities worlds apart. Just the dichotomy of the two universities."

It was Rick Neuheisel, the Washington football coach from 1999 to 2002, who suggested playing the game permanently at Qwest, but the idea was given short shrift.

"I just think it would be a terrific 50-50 split for the state," Neuheisel told The Times in September 2002. "I think it would be a great thing for the schools, like they have in Dallas with Oklahoma and Texas."

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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