Cougars Have Money Issues

Times Staff Writer

Washington State might have lost more than a football game when it faced Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl.

Two weeks after the Cougars were defeated by the Sooners, the university is reporting it sold only 26,000 of its 32,000-ticket allotment.

The school is now left holding the tab for those unused $125 seats -- the empty rows garlanded by red-and-silver pompoms -- a bill that could total $750,000.

"It's quite a bit," said Rod Commons, an athletic department spokesman. "We got hurt by this."

The last time a Rose Bowl team failed to sell its allotment was in 1993, when Washington lost to Michigan. Neither team was highly ranked and both had been in the game the previous year.

This time, Washington State sales were slowed by a late-season loss to rival Washington and Coach Mike Price's December decision to leave for Alabama. Another problem: The Rose Bowl was not determined until after the team defeated UCLA in a Dec. 7 game.

Normally, the matchup is set by Thanksgiving, allowing more time to promote the game.

"The selection date was definitely a factor," said Mitch Dorger, the bowl's chief executive officer.

"The logistics of trying to make this all happen in a couple of weeks in December, it's just very difficult."

Washington State may have contributed to its troubles by giving first choice to a select group of 5,000 donors.

Others had to wait for leftovers.

As it turned out, elite donors bought fewer tickets than expected and by the time sales opened up, some fans had turned elsewhere.

"A lot of them bought their tickets from Oklahoma," Commons said.

The Sooners' windfall became the Cougars' loss.

Any ticket shortfall could be deducted from the estimated $1.2 million the university will receive as a bowl payout -- Pac-10 teams pool their bowl money and split it equally.

The conference often helps its schools pay for unused bowl tickets, but that benefit does not normally extend to the Rose Bowl participant because, Assistant Commissioner Jim Muldoon said, "generally we haven't had any problem selling those tickets."

Washington State administrators plan to raise the issue when Pac-10 athletic directors hold their annual meeting in San Diego next month.

"We're going to ask for some relief," Commons said.

Oklahoma beat Washington State, 34-14, to finish the season at 11-2. The Cougars were 10-3.

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