Some thoughts on WSU’s attendance woes

The CougCenter Hour spent a significant chunk of this weeks episode discussing the attendance woes that confront Cougar football — and really all Cougar athletics. Only 23,000 fans bought tickets for home coming against Cal.

Now there are extenuating circumstances, a big part of the low attendance is the fact that it’s the third straight home game and it came right after a big matchup against Oregon. But the cost of hotels in Pullman, Wash. on a football weekend is astronomical — Michael Preston spent $300 a night for the Colorado State game.

Preston’s solutions to the problem, that he presented, are solid for the short term, but only make things easier for football games. There needs to be a serious investment in rapid transit in Eastern Washington and it’s connectivity to the west side of the state — not just because of sports.


Improving attendance at football games, and basketball games too, would be improved by keeping an eye on the upcoming infrastructure projects and tying into those. One project to keep an eye on is the state’s foray into high speed rail.

Cascadia Rail, a non-profit that lobbies the state legislature to invest into it, has a proposed rail route that connects Seattle to Spokane through the Tri-Cities. It would make an insane amount of sense for Pullman to connect to those two cities with a regional rail service. And, if the Tri-Cities is cut from the rail plan, then it would connect Tri-Cities ridership to Spokane’s high speed rail terminal.

This extra connectivity would not just improve sports attendance but connect three of Washington State University’s campuses together. On top of that, it would improve the connection for Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories to potential employees; while also making it easier, safer, and cheaper (hello gas prices) for people who live in Pullman currently to access events in those other cities…or easier for people in those cities to reach events in Pullman.


While Pullman-Moscow Regional Airport has broken ground on a expansion for a new terminal, it does not guarantee that there will be more frequent flights coming to the Palouse. A regional rail network not only makes the trip to either city easier but also connects the WSU system’s flagship campus to airports with more consistent flights. It also adds connections to potentially two, but at least one, high speed rail terminal(s).

Then you factor in that both those cities have far better hotel infrastructure, and it just makes it easier and cheaper to attend games in Pullman.

Now the big draw back is this is going to be expensive as fuck to install and run. But it would be worth it, and not just for sports fans. Where rail lines go, development will follow. And for cities like Pullman, the Tri-Cities, and Spokane transit oriented development is going to be important as we move forward in this world that’s forever been impacted by climate change.


Not only will the rail development take cars off the road between Spokane, Pullman, and the Tri-Cities; but it can also take cars off the Seattle to Pullman trip once high speed rail comes in. And that is something WSU should absolutely be working toward.

A regional rail network that connects three of it’s five campuses — all five campuses would be connected once high speed rail comes in — makes just too much sense.

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4 replies »

  1. As much as I am fan of high speed rail, and impressed by my trips in China, Japan, and Europe, it isn’t solving this problem. At best, it is still a six plus hour ride from Pullman to Spokane to Seattle. And that assumes you live right at the train station in Seattle and not in the ‘burbs. And that assumes a reasonable kickoff time—ignore P12AfterDark.

    • High speed rail will help feed people into Spokane. And that’s good!

      The bulk of my point, however, is about creating a regional rail network that connects the Tri-Cities to Spokane with a stop in Pullman. And that’s absolutely worth wild, even without high speed rail to tie into.

  2. A couple of issues that need resolution include degradation of the rail lines that no longer connect Pullman with the world. The old Northern Pacific line, which was torn up for a trail northward out of Pullman toward Albion and Colfax and the Union Pacific line that headed west out of town are both gone. Not sure of the ROW issues on both lines.
    Even if reestablished, working speed limits on those lines would extend trip times between Spokane and Pullman to double or triple what it takes to drive that distance. Lack of revenue has pretty much killed rail service on the Palouse and passenger service was the first to go.

    • I think you bring a new line in that can handle 80-100 MPH regional lines – the modern day speed for those lines. Another reason to bring in new rail lines is it NEEDS to be double tracked for any regional rail service to be successful; that provides higher frequency which usually drives higher ridership.

      On top of that, what I’m proposing isn’t just a rail line to Pullman it’s a connection between the two largest metro-areas in Eastern Washington. A Spokane – Pullman – Lewiston/Clarkston – Tri-Cities route would potentially move a lot of people and cut down on car trips.