Time for tightwad Cougar fans to pony up

THE QUESTION STRETCHES across the decades. Why are Cougar fans so, ahh, well, so thrifty? Cheap. There. Now that I've written it down, cheap seems a little lame. Why are Coug fans a bunch of stingy, front-running, freeloading tightwads? If that's a little harsh, here's something: Cougar coaches and players are almost always more competitive than Cougar fans.

Cougar players are running near the front of the pack right now. Cougar fans are dead last in generosity.

In ponying up for the cause. In donating. As in giving til it . . . O.K., I just wanted to make sure the point is clear. The team should be yelling at you!


You drop $100 on lunch, lattes and beer every week or two but you won't drop $100 in the mail once a year to the WSU Athletic Foundation. I'm not talking about $1,000, or even $500. Just the entry level $100 to join what used to be called the Cougar Club.

In fairness, more of you are stepping up than ever. The Athletic Foundation has 5,674 donors -– double the number five years ago -- and the annual total of unrestricted contributions is $6.2 million –- also about double the 2001 figure. That averages to about $1,092 per donor coming to athletic director Jim Sterk.

That's a trend line going in the right direction. What's not right is the way the vast number of Cougar fans expect Bill Doba to put a Mercedes Benz on the football field but don't give him enough support to fill up a Ford Taurus.

As fan generosity goes, WSU is saddled with a bunch of T-Rex types –- big mouth and short arms. No matter how you slice it – total athletic department donors, total unrestricted dollars given or average contribution per donor, the Cougs are last in the Pac-10.

Looking just at the brethren here in the Pacific Northwest, it's like walking down hotel row and finding a Marriott, a Hyatt, a Westin … and a Super 8.

Husky fans? There are 7,000-plus in the Tyee Club, where entry level starts at $150, who donate $12.5 million per year -– or an average of 1,785 per person.

Beaver fans? They've come out of the woodwork in recent years, with 6,900 members of the Beaver Club donating $10.6 million this year –- that's $1,536 per person on average.

Duck Fans? Believe it or not, they just don't rely on Phil Knight. Their club boasts 7,650 members and unrestricted contributions this year total $12.6 million –- or $1,568 per person.

To use an analogy, it's as if WSU is permanently saddled with Chad Davis at quarterback while the Huskies get Marques Tuiasosopo, the Ducks Dan Fouts and the Beavers Jonathon Smith.

YES, YES, COUGAR FANS have been telling themselves for decades how loyal they are to Ol' Wazzu. They point to all the WSU logo license plates driving around the state, which dwarf the number of Husky plates out there. They point to the Space Needle being painted in Cougar colors last Apple Cup in that fundraising competition for charity.

Yadda, yadda, yadda.

Quit deluding yourselves.

The fact is, when it's time to shut your mouth and open your wallet for the athletic department, most Cougar fans head to the exits. I've made a slapdash study over the years as to why that is. First, a translation is called for, and this is strictly connotative. Take the word SPOKANE. Spokane in my notebook is native American for Land Of The Low-Paying Job.

Spokane is handy here because football programs appeal mostly to people who are close enough to drive to the game. Pullman is just east of nowhere, not far from where civilization stops. Idaho.

The idea of rounding up the family and chugging off to a game in Pullman is pretty daunting, except of course to those of us who live east of Moses Lake. Now here's the rub. Coug fans in Bellevue or even Kent -- those who live farthest away -- can afford to send in their $100. Unfortunately, only 932 of those 5,674 devout souls who contribute to Cougar athletics hail from King County -– the place with the biggest concentration of WSU alums.

Getting back to Spokane, I'm going to generalize here, but these fans –- the ones closest to the school -– can't be expected to carry the day when it comes to athletic donations. The average income in Spokane ranks well below that of Portland and Boise and obviously Seattle and Redmond. But it is well above Kazakhstan.

And that's good enough for us. Spokane is a wonderful place, full of cheerful, industrious honest people who don't spend much time thinking about the jockstrap dollar gap. They don't seem to care if Oregon State has stadium renovations. WE are the ones who have to sit out in the rain. Why are YOU complaining?

Here's a window on Spokane. I know a 20-something fellow who manages a Senor Froggys. That's a restaurant. That's his day job. He delivers pizza by night. That's a long day. His wife is assistant manager at McDonald's. She's thinking of taking on a night job, too. They bought a house. Any family with four jobs is excused from mailing in their hundred.

There is, fortunately, a higher side to the economic reality of the Lilac City, another target, if you're charged with the task of raising money for Washington State. I found it recently as I was bouncing between local sports talk shows.

In the afternoons we have The Hammer, who's about as popular as an e-coli outbreak in the Aquifer. One notch south of Hammer on your Spokane A.M. dial is Dennis Patchin, a guy who almost everybody likes, except the callers he shouts at and hangs up on. Those are the ones who want Bill Doba fired. Meanwhile, The Hammer wonders out loud if Coug offensive coordinator Mike Levenseller hates quarterbacks coach Tim Rosenbach or if it's the other way around, that it's Rosie who hates Levy.

Sometimes I settle for the kamikaze approach of The Hammer, but mostly I listen to Dennis, prattling on comfortably with his sidekick, Julie.

This is important now.

The other day Dennis and Julie were talking about a cherished concept. Getting In For Free. Dennis said "media types" will go to any lengths to avoid paying. Coaches, too. Julie concurred. "There's something about free," she said.

Something about free.

The Dennises and Julies can spare a hundred for Cougar sports but, well, there's something about free. We're not all destitute over here. In fact, if I were a Coug fundraiser, I'd approach Dennis and Julie right now. Cough up a couple of hundred. Name the show as a sponsor. At least some of Patch's appeal is based on coaches coming on the air. Nobody will talk to the other host, The Hammer, except the kid in the studio who is paid to take abuse.

If you're Dennis or Julie or thousands like them, professionals, in love with Free, you probably ask yourself why? Why donate?

I suddenly got it, listening to Dennis and Julie. The Washington State football program is a victim of its own success. WSU has been to a couple of Rose Bowls. The Cougs beat Texas in the Holiday not so long ago. They beat the Huskies last year and the year before that. If they did it without my help then, why can't they do it now?

Like I said, Mercedes Benz expectations, Ford Taurus mentality. It's time to get in the game, Cougar fans.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dan Weaver has been following and/or covering the Cougars for the better part of 30 years. For the second straight season, the former Spokesman-Review columnist is bringing his unique insights to Cougfan.com readers every week.

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