SPOKANE -- The Pullman Chamber of Commerce is aghast at the plan to play the Apple Cup football game at Qwest Field in Seattle each year.
The chamber sent a letter to Washington State University president Elson Floyd and athletic director Jim Sterk, protesting a proposal that would end the practice of playing the game every other year in the remote college town.
"The Pullman Chamber of Commerce, a 448-member organization of businesses from Pullman and across the Palouse, is aghast at the idea of moving the Apple Cup game to Seattle for the next 6 years," the letter began.
Removing the game from Pullman will cost businesses money, ruin the college experience of WSU students and hurt season ticket sales, the letter predicted.
Meanwhile, The News Tribune of Tacoma reported Friday that the deal was close to completed and could be announced next week.
"To my knowledge there is no official agreement," WSU athletics spokesman Bill Stevens said Friday.
Washington spokesman Richard Kilwien said the two parties are continuing to talk, and no deal had been struck.
The plan is motivated by money, as both schools seek to raise more funds to cover skyrocketing tuition for scholarship athletes and other costs. Playing the game at Qwest Field, home of the Seattle Seahawks, would pay each program $2 million per year, according to published reports.
Currently, each team gets $240,000 for games played in Pullman at 35,000-seat Martin Stadium. Each team gets $800,000 for games played at 72,000-seat Husky Stadium.
Pullman, a town of about 25,000 people, is 300 miles from Seattle. It is one of the most remote major conference college towns in the nation, and filling WSU sports venues is always a challenge. Losing the Apple Cup, which packs the town for days every other year, is both a financial and psychological blow, the chamber said.
"The rivalry game is a part of the college experience present day students and tomorrow's boosters will take with them as they leave campus," the letter said.
The plan is particularly galling because WSU boosters just raised $27 million in private money to renovate Martin Stadium, only to lose the biggest game on the schedule, the chamber said.
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.
Washington State officials have pointed out that the annual non-conference game that has been played at Qwest Field in recent years would be returned to Pullman, essentially trading one annual game for one that occurs every other year.
But Pullman merchants said Apple Cup week is more lucrative than a non-conference game.
"During Apple Cup week, some businesses double or triple the revenues they reap from a regular home game weekend," the letter said.
"Most retailers count on Christmas. In Pullman we count on home football games," the letter said.
Pullman merchants also worried that fans in other cities, such as Spokane, may stop buying season tickets if a Pullman Apple Cup game is not included.
"Local fans support the teams in good times and bad, and provide a broad alumni base in town," the letter said. "By taking Apple Cup to Seattle your relationship with the Pullman community is being sold to the highest bidder."