Nov. 15, 2006
SEATTLE (AP) -- The long-standing tradition of Washington and Washington State clashing before the turkey is carved may be changing. Soon.
The two rivals are in discussions that could move the Apple Cup to either after Thanksgiving or perhaps at a different part of the season, in hopes of opening up space during the season for both teams to get a bye.
With the new 12-game college football schedule, finding a week off between Labor Day and Thanksgiving is nearly impossible without some schedule adjustments. Both the Huskies and Cougars played 12 straight weeks this fall and are scheduled to do the same next fall.
That doesn't sit well with any of the coaches or administration at either school.
"I don't think it's good for the student-athletes and I think that needs to be looked at," Washington athletic director Todd Turner said. "If that means having to adjust traditional dates to give us something in the middle of the season we need to look at that."
The seriousness behind the talks has grown in recent weeks as both the Huskies and Cougars started to show signs of fatigue from playing every week. After being competitive against the likes of USC and California, Washington has dropped its last two by a combined 54-17.
Washington State struggled the last two weeks as well, losing to Arizona at home 27-17, then falling at Arizona State 47-17 last Saturday.
Turner talks regularly with Washington State AD Jim Sterk and said the Pac-10 Conference is also involved.
"The most important thing about the Apple Cup is that we play it," Turner said. "While it's nice to have it as the last game of the season, and that would be ideal, I'm open to other options."
The simplest option would be moving the game to after Thanksgiving, playing on either the Saturday after the holiday, or the first Saturday in December -- the last day of the college regular season.
The Apple Cup is the only Pac-10 rivalry game being played before Thanksgiving this year. Oregon and Oregon State moved the Civil War to the day after Thanksgiving, and Arizona-Arizona State will be played on Nov. 25.
The Big Game (California-Stanford) and USC-UCLA will both be played on Dec. 2.
But moving the game back might cost the schools a chance at television exposure. As the only rivalry game being played before Thanksgiving this year, the Apple Cup was picked up by Fox Sports Net for a national broadcast as part of its package with the Pac-10. A similar TV option may not be available if the game is moved and is going head-to-head with one of the other rivalry matchups.
Pac-10 associate commissioner Duane Lindberg said finding a television slot next year if the game was moved back would be difficult.
"There are no guarantees any game is going to be televised, but we have really made an effort," Lindberg said. "Primarily our Fox partners have helped us get those games televised."
Added Sterk, "That is something we would really look at, what are the impacts with TV and all of that. TV is a piece of it. It's pretty important."
Washington coach Tyrone Willingham and the Huskies have no qualms with moving the game back a week or two, providing perhaps two chances for byes during the regular season.
That sentiment isn't exactly shared exactly in Pullman. Cougars' coach Bill Doba would like a bye week, but doesn't like the idea of moving the game beyond Thanksgiving, especially when it's played in Pullman. Washington State students are given the entire Thanksgiving week off, and playing the Saturday after Thanksgiving in Pullman could hamper the atmosphere.
"If we have that Apple Cup here (playing) then, it would be kind of a downer to be honest with you," Doba said.
Doba's preference would be opening the season a week sooner. Sterk believes playing the game in December in Pullman might be an option.
Playing after Thanksgiving isn't unheard of in the rivalry's history. Ten times since 1949 -- when the rivals started meeting in the season finale -- the game was played the Saturday after Thanksgiving, the last coming in 1978. Five of those were played at Spokane's Joe Albi Stadium. The teams have never played after the holiday in Pullman.
"You always have those discussions, especially if you think it'll allow you to have a better opportunity to run your season, or manage your season," Willingham said.