Gonzaga and Washington State are tweaking their annual home-and-home basketball series, not likely to be a popular move among some WSU fans.
As part of a three-year deal agreed upon last summer, next season’s Zags-Cougars game will be played at Spokane Arena. Although the last GU-WSU game was on the Gonzaga campus, this one will also be a Zags “home” game — Gonzaga’s game-management team will operate it and the school takes most of the profit — and the series will return to Pullman in 2015-16 in the last year of the contract.
After that, it’s anybody’s guess.
“I hope we can keep it,” WSU athletic director Bill Moos said Friday. “We need to get it back in sync, where it’s home-and-home over two or four years. That would be my goal.”
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Moos said he accepted Gonzaga’s proposal because “I felt we were in jeopardy of losing a rivalry that’s gone back decades. I feel I was willing to accommodate their situation, and some day I may need a chit from them.”
Gonzaga’s West Coast Conference schedule now covers 18 games instead of 14 as it did a few years ago, and because the league can be a drag on its power rating, GU has been more selective in scheduling nonleague games.
At the same time, the Cougars, who have recently been near the bottom of the Pac-12, represent a tricky opponent for Gonzaga — one that not only has often played close to the Zags even in down years, but one at whose competitive level Gonzaga wouldn’t otherwise play on the road without the series’ long history. It began in 1907.
Meanwhile, the Cougars averaged only 2,800 fans this season, easily worst in the Pac-12, although they usually draw well for Gonzaga.
“What Bill and I talked about when we discussed this is, let’s make it a great college-basketball atmosphere,” said Gonzaga AD Mike Roth. “We’ve got 12,000 people that will hopefully show up for a game.
“Yes, it’s in our backyard, but it’s also in their backyard.”
Roth points out that “not without some things changing” has the long series — led by WSU, 98-50 — taken place. When Gonzaga ended a 13-game losing streak to WSU in the late ’80s with two straight wins, the Cougars, under coach Kelvin Sampson, stopped the series, and it went dark from 1988 to 1995.
When it resumed, four of the first five games were played at Spokane Arena. Since the 2001-02 season, it’s been a continuing home-and-home series.
“I think it’s going to be a great atmosphere,” said Moos. “I insisted that we were able to have accommodations for our spirit squads and pep band and mascot, which they did not want to allow, but I was able to get that concession. I felt good about that.”
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281