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WSU, UW rivalry takes a turn


COUGARS

If you’ve read the links here last night and this morning, you know University of Washington athletic director Scott Woodward had a few things to say about the demise of Senate Bill 6116. The bill would have given King County a way to ask voters to fund a Husky Stadium renovation, among other things, using an existing tax. Some of the comments were aimed at WSU president Elson Floyd and athletic director Jim Sterk. We were able to run down Sterk today and get a response. Read on for the unedited version of the story that will appear in tomorrow’s S-R.

••••••••••

• Here is the unedited version of the story along with a couple other Sterk quotes that didn’t make the final cut …

PULLMAN – It doesn’t take much to heat up a rivalry – or take it to a new level.

Washington State University and the University of Washington compete on the athletic fields, vie for the state’s high school athletes and struggle for the hearts and minds of the state’s fans.

Now, thanks to a tough economy, a battle over UW’s request for $150 million in state help to rebuild dilapidated Husky Stadium and some eye-raising antics by a few Washington State alums, the rivalry has resulted in some administrative trash-talking.

To wit, University of Washington athletic director Scott Woodward expressing his disappointment in a Seattle Times story that first appeared online Monday evening that WSU president Elson Floyd and athletic director Jim Sterk “didn’t do anything to try to contain that little group of Cougars that were out there doing that. It was a shame that they didn’t show leadership or courage to curtail something like that.”

So how did that comment go over with Sterk?

“It was so inappropriate that I laughed, basically,” Sterk said Tuesday. “I could not believe those comments were coming from him. One, to me as athletic director but then, two, to the president of the university.”

Woodward’s comments were in a story concerning the demise of Senate Bill 6116, which, among other items, provided a mechanism for funding a Husky Stadium renovation.

Attempts to reach Woodward for this story were unsuccessful.

A group of Washington State alums campaigned hard to defeat the UW money – going as far as renting a plane to tow a banner above Olympia last week – and, according to a vocal segment of UW fans, played a key role in defeating the bill. The UW athletic director, however, didn’t feel it was the case, in the story calling their actions “an irritant, that’s the best way to put it.”

However, the lack of WSU response bothered him.

“I talked to Jim about it and he made it clear that his president wasn’t going to interfere with what his alums did,” Woodward was quoted as saying, “even if it was to his detriment or to the health of his department.”

“The last part of that was not a quote from me,” Sterk said. “But the first part, yes, that we weren’t going to interfere with that. But this was after the fact, within the last week as far as Scott addressing that with me.”

Before then, Sterk said, Washington State made a decision to not get involved in light of the financial stresses on a state legislature dealing with a $9-billion deficit.

“WSU felt it was not appropriate for the institution, for us to ask for any stadium support during this legislative session,” Sterk said. “The legislature and the governor, they were already facing all the significant challenges of the economic crisis. So that’s why we didn’t take a position.

“When the economy improves and if the legislature and the governor change their minds on stadium funding, as long as it’s fair to both institutions, WSU would join UW in the discussions.”

And, as for the group of Cougars who were actively involved, Sterk said, “I would find out about (actions) after the fact when something happened, but never was it ‘OK, Jim, do you think we should do this or do that.’ No one ever asked me that.

“They had their own agenda,” he added. “But I didn’t feel and the president didn’t feel, it was appropriate to try to stifle … the speech of the taxpayers, either Huskies or Cougars who wanted to express their opinions on this topic or others. So we just tried to stay out of it.”

Sterk did say, if the issue were revived after the economy improved, he would support it “only if Washington State receives the same proportion of funds.”

“If the legislature is going to fund a stadium, then Washington State needed to be at the table also,” he said. “But everything we got from the legislature, they were saying this is not the time to be asking for … stadium support. … If that changes in the future I think Washington State, we have over $200 million we have to work on with the stadium, and have drawings to that effect.”

Some UW supporters have made the argument Washington State’s athletic department receives state money now and Washington doesn’t, so the legislative request was just a way to catch up.

That’s patently false, according to Sterk. The athletic department receives around 8 percent of its $30 million budget from the university, but Sterk said it’s not alone.

“We don’t receive any funds from the state,” he said. “Ours are institutional support, like the University of Washington receives, tuition waivers. We receive tuition waivers. Washington State does receive some additional, but we’re both being funded.”

The two athletic directors hadn’t talked since the Times story appeared, Sterk said, but both are scheduled to attend Pac-10 meetings next Tuesday in Phoenix.

“I don’t know,” Sterk answered when asked how that will be. “I’ve tried to stay above the (fray). Obviously, I didn’t want to get into it with him. I was just surprised. Really.”

•••

• There was a little more to today’s interview, though most was covered above. We did ask, however, a couple questions about the response from Floyd, who was unavailable for comment today – for me at least – and a couple other things.

• Is president Floyd aware of the comments, Sterk was asked? “Yes,” Sterk said. Does he have a response? “No, he’s not going to (comment publicly).” Within channels? “I’m sure there probably is within channels, but nothing specific that I know of.”

• Is there anything Sterk would do differently concerning this issue if he could? “I don’t think so,” he said. “I don’t think we really could from that standpoint. A lot of things were said to the legislature by lobbyists that weren’t necessarily true or they didn’t even know Washington State had a stadium project. So it was kind of one-sided, I guess. If anything, I would try to educate the legislature on Washington State’s needs. However, again, our position was not to put that out there because of the need for operating budgets in higher ed and all the needs there outside of a stadium. So it was not in the political strategy to do that.”

• Does a public spat make the job harder? “It does,” Sterk admitted. “You would rather handle things behind closed doors. Yes, it does take some twists and turns if it becomes public.”

•••

• That’s it for this evening. As usual this time of year, we’ll be back as events warrant. Until then …


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