GAME ON: Cougs will battle Auburn in '06 opener

FINAL AGREEMENT HAS been reached on the proposed 2006 season opener between Washington State and Auburn, The Huntsville Times reported this morning and WSU confirmed in the afternoon. The game, set for next Sept. 2 at Auburn's Jordan-Hare Stadium, will be nationally televised by ESPN. The newspaper, citing sources within the Auburn athletic department, says WSU will receive a payout of more than $500,000 and that there will be no return game in Pullman or Seattle.

Sources at WSU told earlier this month that they were looking for a payday in excess of $750,000. Coupled with their share from ESPN, the total deal could be worth $1 million or more.

The official announcement is expected today, the paper said.

"The agreement finishes months of talks and negotiations since the NCAA approved a 12th game for the 2006 season," the newpaper reported. This will be the first-ever meeting between the schools.

Previously, both Cougar athletic director Sterk and head coach Bill Doba had stood firm on getting a return date for scheduling an upper-tier intersectional opponent. But the alternative, ending up without a big name in next year's out-of-conference schedule, was apparently worse.

Auburn is thought to have significantly increased the payout, which Washington State could find too good an opportunity to pass up. Moreover, Doba is believed to like his chances as he looks to have a senior-dominated team in 2006.

Washington State has found it tough to schedule top opponents for a variety of reasons, chief among them that flush programs are opposed to scheduling a home-and-away series, preferring to load up on as many as seven to eight home games a year.

Sterk had tried to get Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa and Notre Dame to come to Qwest Field for this year and was turned down by all. WSU eventually scheduled Div I-AA opponent Grambling State for the Sept. 17 tilt in Seattle.

"We're not a storied enough program and at the same time we've become too competitive," said Sterk last year. "Kevin White, the athletic director at Notre Dame, said, 'We're not going to play you, you're too good.'"

Auburn was 13-0 last season, but was the odd man out in the hunt for the national title game as both Oklahoma and Southern Cal also went undefeated during the regular season.

WSU's other non-conference opponents in 2006 are Idaho and Baylor, both in Pullman.

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