Commentary: Coug fans must keep ball rolling

OK COUGAR FANS. It's time to help turn the excitement about our basketball team into a commitment to sustained success. You need to open your wallets and make an investment in the future of this program. And make no mistake – it is an investment. It's an investment that can produce very real dividends for the entire athletic department but even more so for the entire university.

Consider this fact: In the history of Washington State University, three years stand above all others for the number of applicants the school received from prospective students.

The years were 1998, 2003 and 2007.

It's no coincidence that those years coincide with WSU's last two Rose Bowl appearances and last year's trip to the Big Dance.

When Cougar teams are successful on the fields and courts, the benefits ripple through the university community. Donations, for instance, increase not just to athletics but to every department in the school. Rightly or wrongly, athletics dictates in big ways and small how alums feel about their alma mater and how the general public views WSU.

So let's talk about basketball for a minute.

The success of the Cougs over the last two seasons has put a collective spring in the step of alums and fans. It's made winter downright warm. It's found us calling old friends, emailing rivals and pouring a cold one or two every Thursday and Saturday.

For purely personal and selfish reasons, I'd like to keep that tradition alive. For love of school, I'd like to keep that tradition going.

But it takes money.

Washington State has always done more with less in athletics, but the gap between us and the rest is getting wider and wider. We don't need to catch up with the others but must narrow the chasm.

Consider that in 2006 (the last year for which full numbers are available), WSU athletics received $6.8 million in unrestricted donations. The next lowest school in the Pac-10 was Arizona State at a little more than $10 million. The difference between 10th and 9th was a whopping 30+ percent. Head to the top of the list and you'll find Washington, Stanford and Oregon all pulling in between $30 million and $40 million. USC was only at $17 million, because they devoted their 2006 athletic fundraising efforts to a capital campaign that raised $70 million.

The difference in alumni donations between the haves (pretty much the rest of the Pac-10) and the have not (WSU) rears itself in ways that the average fan doesn't consider.

This season, for instance, Tony Bennett took his team on road trips to Idaho State and Boise State. A nationally ranked team from the best conference in America taking road trips to the Gem State is patently absurd. You'd never find Oregon, USC or even Oregon State making those treks. The Idaho States of the world come to you, period.

But only if your alums are keeping pace on the money front.

A couple of years ago WSU wanted to buy cutting-edge hydrotherapy pools to help injured athletes, from all sports, recover faster. Bennett offered to give up money earmarked for upgrading basketball offices so WSU could buy it. Rest assured, no other coach in the Pac-10 has ever had to make such an offer.

A year ago, during the Cinderella basketball season, generous Cougar fans donated some $600,000 to WSU's Basketball Excellence Fund. Athletic director Jim Sterk sent an email appeal to fans in the last week asking them to prime that pump again.

WSU won't officially say what they think is needed to get the basketball programs – men's and women's – up to snuff. But back-channel sources estimate the amount to be $2 million.

That means we, the fans, need to come up with another $1.4 million.

That's money that would be invested in facility upgrades, in remodeled locker rooms, in high-tech video systems, in new equipment and installation of the coveted HydroWorx joint therapy system. It means the team could avoid stress and strain by taking more chartered flights than commercial ones.

Through all of it, the entire university benefits. A great basketball team increases game-day revenues from seat sales and TV contracts. It supercharges the prestige of the school, getting more young people applying to get in, and fueling donations to the ag school, the Murrow school, the vet school and so on.

Now is the time for all Cougar fans to make an investment in the future of their university. Whether it's $100 or $25,000, help keep the Cougars in the game by making a donation right now to WSU's basketball excellence fund.

Click here to make it happen.

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