NAME CHANGE: WSU Cougars no more?

THEY'VE BEEN THE Cougars since 1919 but in a sign of today's competitive climate -- and perhaps part of the answer to keeping Tony Bennett in Pullman long term -- Washington State is entertaining the unprecedented notion of selling the rights to the school's nickname. And a corporate sponsor is pushing hard to cut the deal.

WSU refused to confirm that talks have taken place, but a source with the American Farm Bureau Association said Monday that an agreement in principle is close to being reached on a deal -- one that will put "Cougars" in the dust bin of history.

"It's an alliance that should keep Tony Bennett on charter airplanes at least until Mo Ryan (sic) retires," said Arthur Funk of the AFBA.

Calls to a variety of contacts in Pullman proved fruitless but one administration official said school president Elson Floyd has been highly dismayed by how frugal WSU alums are when it comes to athletics donations and has been brain-storming ways to generate the revenue needed to stay competitive in football and basketball.

Funk would not disclose the name of the organization talking with WSU, but said it's an agriculture industry trade group, based in California, that is looking for ways to combat foreign inroads in its U.S. market share.

CF.C made a series of calls to economics and agriculture professors at various colleges and universities in California to get some sense of what industry, or commodity, fits that description.

Ideas varied but critical mass seemed to point in one direction -- to the artichoke-growing industry that is concentrated around Salinas, a coastal community west of Fresno that produces roughly 95 percent of the artichokes grown in the United States.

"That region is perfectly suited for growing artichokes and has been a cash cow for those farm interests for decades," said Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo economics professor Jeff Barker. "They've been under increasing assault from growers in Europe and the Middle East, so, yes, I think that is a group that fits your description."

The Washington State Artichokes?

"I didn't say that. Those are your words," said Funk.

Weird, but perhaps not unique. Scottsdale Community College in Arizona calls its team the Fighting Artichokes.

"I can tell you hands have been shook," said Funk. "This is a complex agreement that has been fully vetted and scrutinized, and I know the NCAA has been apprised of what's going on."

Calls to the NCAA and to Pac-10 offices were not returned.

The WSU administration official who said President Floyd has been looking for ways to increase sports revenue minced no words about the need to ramp up fundraising.

"The simple truth is we need to compete, and we need to get Martin Stadium finished," he said. "When you've got alums as tight fisted as Washington State's, you have to got to go to extremes to raise money. Thinking outside the box and tapping previously non-existent revenue streams is certainly one way to do that."

Funk described the agreement in principle as groundbreaking and comprehensive in scope, covering areas as diverse as the campus creamery, producer of the popular Cougar Gold cheese.

"I will say that the artichoke is a very versatile food, it's not just about dip anymore," said Funk. "Artichoke candy, artichoke lemonade, artichoke coffee syrups, all of those are viable consumer products. And the Greek god Zeus was said to have loved artichokes -- which is why the 'choke is known as the 'Vegetable of the Gods.'

"And that's only the tip of the iceberg here when it comes to university tie-ins. There's a whole lot more to it. It's a multi-million dollar deal."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Happy April Fools' Day.

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