Post Alley Roundtable: A Husky Football Pacxit?

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2021 game / Art Thiel, Sportspress Northwest

Editor’s Note: We asked some Post Alley writers to weigh in on Husky football, now that the defection of USC and UCLA has put a stick in the spokes of the PAC-12 and the UW considers its own “Pacxit.”

Tom Corddry: West Coast Blues 

College football is like real estate: location matters. The Eastern and Central Time Zones contain 77 percent of the nation’s population, 84 percent of Division I colleges, and 80 of College Football News’s Top 100 college football teams. The Pac-12 isn’t even doing very well in its small western pond: the mean ranking of the Pac 12 teams is 62, the median ranking is 72. The Huskies are 76th, and only Utah is in the Top 20. As a big-time football conference, the Pac-12 was nearly dead, and now is most sincerely dead.

Major college football programs out west have a problem something like that which used to bedevil baseball teams on the West Coast before the Dodgers moved to LA: too few big markets, too many miles apart, and way too far from the teeming cities of the east. In those days, we played minor-league baseball in a league of our own. Air travel finally let MLB extend into the west, but even today just 8 of 30 MLB teams are in the Pacific or Mountain Time Zones. Such team spend a lot of time on airplanes. The Mariners travel the most miles of all — a fate that probably awaits the Huskies.

The big realignment in college football seems like it will settle out into three or four pro-style leagues, which will gobble up nearly all the big money and therefore nearly all the top-tier athletes. This creates a huge challenge for every team out west, but Washington and Oregon are in a particular jam. UW and OU are big-time programs which aspire to elite national status, have big-time facilities and alumni backers and a big-time habit of depending on the football cash flow to float a lot of other athletic boats.

Giving up all that would be a wrenching change, to say the least. I hope UW President Ana Mari Cauce has a secret team someplace crunching the numbers fast on a Pacxit, because she’ll need to explain to the faculty that she’s done her homework and what she learned. I expect the UW will make every effort to keep dining at the adult table, and brace itself for a lot of travel back and forth to the national center of college football gravity, which is said to be near Huzzah, Missouri.

Jean Godden: Take the Money

When it comes to college athletics, there’s no polite or politically correct way of describing the choices. It’s all about three things: money, money, and MONEY. 

The exit of USC and UCLA from the Pac 12 has created a dilemma for a school like the University of Washington. The questions now are 1) should the UW try to follow the Southern California teams to the Midwest if such a deal is even available? That option would adversely impact Washington State — another state-dependent system. Or 2) should the UW remain in the Pac 12, perhaps adding new teams to boost the conference? 

The UW’s decision ought to be what’s best for a highly respected research university. But that utopian mindset skips over financial rewards. Last year in the aftermath of the pandemic, the UW’s share of the Pac 12 TV take was an anemic $19.8 million, down from $33.6 million in 2020. In the Midwest’s Big 10, schools were banking $100 million. 

Make no mistake: Husky football profits make possible the school’s other sports programs. Those bucks also fund programs born of Title IX – the greatest thing that ever happened to girls’ and women’s sports in America. Credit Husky football support for women’s softball, basketball, track and field, gymnastics and volleyball, among others.  

It’s also football money that finances the debt on Husky Stadium, a big number. It’s football that makes college possible for young men and women athletes who otherwise would not be able to afford a higher education. Financial aid to UW student-athletes (373 male and 368 female last year) averaged $17,148 for women, $20,730 for men.

As noted, it’s all about the money. And money doesn’t just talk. Treated right, it sings.

Doug MacDonald: Dump Football

Forget UW men’s professional football.  Seattle has one men’s professional baseball team. One men’s professional soccer team. One women’s professional soccer team. One men’s professional ice hockey team.  One women’s professional basketball team.  And one men’s professional football team. Still no men’s professional basketball team.  An obvious question: Why do we need a second men’s  professional football team? UW men’s professional football is excess to our needs. Let it go. Let’s focus on getting a men’s professional basketball team, so we would have one of those, too. Meanwhile, Go Hawks! And leave the rest of us the space to root for a great public university, whose greatness has nothing to do with football, now or tomorrow. 

Art Thiel: Go Bigger

I’m sure some in the UW faculty would delight in a retreat by the athletics department to croquet, lawn darts, and three-legged racing. But that would work as well as the decision by Texas to operate its own power grid.

The foundation of college athletics is competition among, more or less, equals. Given more than a century of investments in local facilities and national commitments, a UW retreat would be financial malfeasance and emotional default. The excesses wrought by sudden, yet finite, TV wealth have been egregious, certainly. But the solutions should be more like haircuts instead of lobotomies.

The West Coast has one Ivy League-caliber school, Stanford, and the rest, including UW, are rogues, scalawags, brigands, and privateers of varying swarthiness. Yet even in these perilous times, UW has been more or less operating break-even, including facilities mortgage debt. There is no correlation or threat between any university’s athletic prowess and its standing as a research university — unless the athletic department loses TV revenue and booster money, becoming dependent on subsidy from the university’s general budget.

The answer is not to go back to the days of the esteemed Dr. Bergman’s raccoon coats, but to go bigger. For the next three to five years, UW needs to affiliate with a football conference with upside potential, such as the Big 12, until big-time college sports fully professionalizes, as per my earlier forecast. The suggestion of Rep. Stokesbary about UW slowing down to let struggling WSU keep up is laudable, but fanciful, given the ruthless nature of the dysfunction among the big-time sports universities.

Try as it might, a pickle can never again become a cucumber.

Abe Bergman: TV Ruined the Game

I have been a fan since he late ’30s and early ’40s when I and my friends got free tickets to Husky Stadium for participating in the Seattle Times Old-Ozie contests. The tickets could only be used for games against lowly teams like Idaho and Montana.

Fast forward to the 1990s when the games were played at night, and became “productions” instead of athletic contests. The student section and band were moved to the nether regions, flashing lights and continuous loud music prevailed. TV timeouts, of course, interrupted the rhythm of the game. I passed off my season tickets to my kids.

Of course the UW should shuck off the ambitions of being a “football power.” Stick together with Wazoo and other schools who do not count on palatial locker rooms to recruit players.  The coming brouhaha over this matter will be entertaining to observe. In his Times column on Sunday, the wonderful Danny Westneat described the social media barrage directed at a Republican (yes!) House member from Auburn who suggested that the UW concentrate on its major mission. Dawgs, get back in your kennel!

David Brewster: De-Escalate

In my view, the loss of USC and UCLA provides the University of Washington a rare opportunity (and excuse) to begin the long-needed de-escalation of college sports. UW should immediately signal that it has no interest in joining a larger league. If the current league shrinks to the PAC-10, that would be fine. After all, there is much to be said for all the tradition in these regional rivalries.

This first step would put the UW on a course of being more true to its brand as a research university and less in thrall to television contracts. If that means the loss of a few minor sports, that would be okay, though these minor sports could be given some time to raise outside money. The rabid fans of Husky football (and basketball) could be assessed more money to sustain the team, since these fans are the real driver of the University’s pursuit of pro-level (meaning TV-worthy) teams. And the University should make clear other phased steps of de-escalation, particularly scaling back highly-paid coaching staffs and luxury locker rooms.

I am not convinced that smart de-escalation will produce fewer alumni donations. Ivy League teams still draw alumni for lucrative weekends on campus, and its rivalries produce intense interest in these games (even if not seeking a national championship). I agree that the television money needs to keep flowing to pay off the Husky Stadium debt. But lest we invest further dollars in this mad pursuit and get further in debt, a stated policy of education-based de-escalation will provide prophylactic protection. 

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Can’t imagine Husky football without playing the teams left in the Pact 12 and don’t want to.

    Big fish in small pond adherer

  2. One should always be careful about what one wishes for. The UC system regents very recently announced they will be soon discussing possible litigation, presumably surrounding UCLA’s announced departure from the Pac 12. Considering the debt many Pac 12 institutions underwrote to enhance their sports facility and programs, one could suspect this may be one of the topics of that discussion. It’s amusing to often hear how large college football programs pay their way and fund other programs, however their liabilities seem to end up in the lap of the institutions or eventually the state taxpayers in the case of public ones.

    Think any other Pac 12 teams are going to promptly move to another conference soon?

  3. Im honored to be mentioned in any way by my all-time favorite sportswriter, Art Thiel. But raccoon coats? I went to Releld, College. where in the 50’s, its football team gained national prominence with the longest stretch of consecutive losses.

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