When Washington State first met Idaho on the gridiron in 1894, the game of football had a much different look to it. In the time since that first meeting on a chilly November afternoon 121 years ago, the schools have met 451 times in four separate sports.
After a century of interstate play, the rivalry came to a screeching halt in the early 2000s, when the athletic departments from both colleges chose to end the interstate series. However, school officials at both universities recently added one another as opponents in back-to-back basketball seasons, prompting fans to take notice. When it was announced that the programs would meet on the football field in 2013 and again in 2016, the news led to a number of students excited about the possibility of renewing the “Battle of the Palouse.”
When Boise State paraded the Governor’s Trophy in the Kibbie Dome in 2010 following a 52-14 victory over the Vandals, many Idaho students didn’t realize that this meeting was the last in-state rivalry football game for the program. Before the matchup, BSU president Bob Kustra expressed displeasure at Vandal fans, referring to them as “nasty” and “inebriated,” his comments sparking statewide controversy. Kustra refused to back down from his stance later in the month, and decided to cancel the annual meeting between the two programs, leaving the series in limbo with no foreseeable future between the schools.
In the five years since, many Vandal football fans were left confused as to which foe would be considered the new rival. School officials attempted to build up Sun Belt newcomer New Mexico State as the biggest football competitor for the Vandals, but to little avail.
Meanwhile, Idaho basketball has suffered a similar situation as a result of the fallout. The Vandals play Boise State on an inconsistent basis, and only at a neutral site, in order to keep from playing on the Boise campus because of Kustra's comments. Because of the inconsistent nature of the series, Idaho basketball downplayed the intrastate rivalry and attempted to develop a competitive environment with Big Sky opponent Montana, but fans have complained that the series between the teams lacks substance and background.
An inkling of renewing the “Battle of the Palouse” began in January of 2013, when WSU announced Idaho as an opponent for that upcoming football season. The hope for rivalry renewal gained more steam in the summer of 2014, when WSU announced that it would schedule a second home football game against the Vandals during the 2016 season.
In the time since, the Idaho men’s basketball program scheduled two meetings with WSU. This includes a game on the road in Beasley Coliseum last year, in which the Vandals emerged with a 77-71 victory over the Cougars on their home court. The volleyball and soccer programs for the two universities also faced one another earlier in the semester, resulting in much larger crowds than anticipated at both campus venues.
The recent coordination between the two schools has fans in the Palouse thrilled as to the possibility of renewing the “Battle of the Palouse” as a full-time rivalry between the colleges.
“WSU and UI have very similar atmospheres,” began Ali Riggan, a former Washington State student. “I think playing each other is a good way to prompt a healthy sense of competitiveness between the two universities.”
Because Idaho students have not had a legitimate rival in recent years, the WSU-Idaho matchup allows Vandal students to funnel their energy into those key games, and make more of an effort to pack the stadiums during the momentous meetings with the neighboring opponent.
“If the rivalry is done right, it has the potential to be good for both the towns and universities,” said Elizabeth Diaz, an interior design student at the University of Idaho. “With the two towns being so close together there’s a joint sense of competition and excitement. Everyone can get in on it, no matter which side they’re cheering for.”
The possible renewal of the Battle of the Palouse could also benefit the communities of both Moscow and Pullman. The two cities are located only eight miles from one another, allowing for quick and affordable transportation for athletes and fans between the schools. In addition, the matchup will allow businesses in the two cities to reap the rewards of larger crowds, as more fans visit local shops and restaurants during game day.
While school officials from both universities have not elaborated on further sporting events between the two colleges, the potential to renew the Battle of the Palouse has led many to speculate as to the future in store for the two universities and their respective athletic programs. However, the rivalry will only develop and reach full-time status if the athletic departments for both colleges are supportive and willing to commit to renewing the historic rivalry.
The Vandals are currently scheduled to face the Cougars at Cowan Spectrum in Moscow on Dec. 10 this upcoming basketball season. The two college football programs are also scheduled to meet on the gridiron at Martin Stadium in Pullman on Sep. 17 of next year.