The Cougars will begin a new season on Thursday when Washington State takes the field against Rutgers. They will also end a tradition 12 years in the making, playing their last home game in Seattle for the foreseeable future.
With the exception of 2010, Washington State has played one home game at Seattle's CenturyLink Field every year since 2002, when the venue was known as Seahawks Stadium.
The Cougars will not play a home game in Seattle next season, and athletic director Bill Moos has indicated that the WSU football team is unlikely to cross the Cascade Mountains again unless it's for an Apple Cup.
The Seattle game's purpose was to increase the program's exposure in the state's most populous city, but also to provide an injection of money to a program that needed it at the time.
While never a sellout, the average Seattle game attendance of 50,273 is roughly 15,000 more than the seating capacity of WSU's Martin Stadium. Even though the team incurs travel expenses for the trip to Seattle, the game netted WSU as much as twice the revenue that a sellout in Pullman brings in.
"(The Seattle game) has served its purpose well and in my time," Moos said. "Especially during the period of time when we had a lot of things that we wanted to address and really didn't have the means in which to do that, the Seattle game created a revenue stream so that we could get started on some of these things."
Attendance dipped against Stanford last season to an all-time low for the Seattle game of 40,095. With a weeknight game during the first week of classes back in Pullman, fewer than 30,000 tickets have been sold for Thursday's game.
When Moos arrived in 2010 he boosted the game's attendance by scheduling nearby conference teams such as Oregon State in 2011, Oregon in 2012 and Stanford last season. While those games were moneymakers, giving up the game in Pullman proved unfavorable to winning and the Cougars lost those three games by a combined score of 150-64.
The Cougars' coffers have swelled thanks to the Pac-12's recent television deal, allowing Moos to spend much more heavily than in the past on coaches and facilities. The new revenue also means that the Cougars no longer have to sell a home game for the sake of the balance sheet.
"We probably have a better chance to win if we're playing at home in Pullman," Moos said. "And our product is at the point now where we can realistically compete with everybody on our schedule."
Washington State's season opener against Rutgers on Thursday night is one of six Pac-12 games that are going to be televised on Fox Sports 1, which is in the middle of an apparent dispute with satellite TV provider DISH.
DISH claims that it already agreed to pay an 'inflated price' for Fox Sports 1 content, and that Fox is now asking for an additional charge. If the two sides can't come to an agreement this week then DISH subscribers will miss Rutgers at WSU on Thursday and the Colorado at Colorado State rivalry game on Friday, as well as other college football games throughout the season.
When WSU plays its first true home game in Pullman on Sept. 13 against Portland State, fans will see a very different Martin Stadium. Not only is there an 84,000-square-foot football operations building towering above the west end zone, there are additional cosmetic changes that are still in the works.
There is a new brick façade circling the interior of the stands, and new field turf with crimson end zones. Construction workers are also currently installing an LED ribbon board on the stadium's north side, just below the upper deck.
There will be tours of the football operations building provided to fans on Friday afternoons before home games, and Saturday mornings before the game. These tours are only available to fans that have donated to become members of the Cougar Athletic Fund.
Cornerback Sebastian LaRue was still not at practice on Monday. LaRue transferred to WSU from Texas A&M last season as a receiver before making the switch to cornerback.
LaRue has been away from the team for about two weeks dealing with family matters, Leach said. LaRue was expected to return to practice by Monday, the start of classes at WSU. Leach says he still expects LaRue to return to the team soon.