A GRIP ON SPORTS
It snowed quite a bit in Spokane yesterday. Enough to disrupt life in Washington's second-largest city. But the snow on the streets around the Lilac City pales in comparison to the piles on the Palouse. South of Spokane the snow came a couple days earlier, fell harder and will probably stay longer. Classes at Washington State were cancelled today but the basketball game will go on, provided the Stanford Cardinal made the trip down U.S. 195. As a veteran of that trek (I still follow the state's traffic cams religiously this time of year), I will say the trip will be slow, but can be done. So the game will go on. We have more on that today, of course, but we also have another issue to discuss, one that might raise some eyebrows, so read on.
• We'll start with the weather because, really, isn't that what everyone is talking about? It seems a bit ironic the Cougars get to play at home for the first time in 31 days and the crowd might be held down by a snowstorm. However, the students should be there in full throat. After all, they don't have those pesky classes to worry about or take up there time. Speaking of that, WSU center Charlie Enquist, a fifth-year senior who is one of the Pac-12's better scholar-athletes, tweeted yesterday about the school closure, saying, “No school the only day I don't have class. This is such crap.” Pretty funny. …
What's not funny, but is a bit ironic, is the money being paid for college football coaches in a time when educational opportunities for our youth are being limited due to economic hardship. I know what I am about to write here might not sit well with people (and might also be considered a bit ironic since it's coming from a guy whose salary the past five years was based on covering college athletics – and the attendant fan interest) but I'm just asking you to think about this objectively. We'll start with the background, as detailed by Art Thiel on the Sportspress Northwest site. The Huskies finished filling out their football staff Wednesday – Bob Condotta has the particulars in the Times – luring offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau away from California with a huge paycheck, somewhere in the neighborhood of $700,000 a year for a job that was paying less than half that five years ago. These incredibly inflated salaries, and that of the new coaches in the conference, such as Washington State's Mike Leach and UCLA's Jim Mora, Jr., are all made possible by the media contract the Pac-12 recently signed with ESPN and others, which will reportedly bringing in some $3 billion over the next 12 years. That's money earned by the athletic departments, one could say, and one would be correct, to a point. But athletic departments represent, and are part of, the universities. The players attend the university. The facilities are, for the most part, on campus. And the money can be, and is, intertwined.
Let's use Washington State as an example. (I'm not picking on the Cougars, but using them because I know how their financial situation works and can speak authoritatively on their situation, with the same underlying principles at work throughout college athletics.) The athletic department strives to be, and often has been over the past dozen years or so, self-sufficient to a large degree. The university covers some things – for example benefits for the employees, who are no different than the folks in other departments. But in large part the athletic department tries to pay its bills. When it can't however, Bill Moos – and Jim Sterk before him – doesn't go down to the Bank of Fairfield and ask for a loan, using Bohler gym as collateral. No, the university covers the debt. With the knowledge when times get better, the athletic department will pay the money back. And that's what Moos is going to do in 2012. When he gets the first installment of the Pac-12 media money, some $5 million, he says he's going to pay off the debt, which just so happens to be around that amount. Good for him. It will help with the huge shortfall the university is facing thanks to state budget cuts. When the governor proposes 15 percent cuts, as happened last fall, WSU president Elson S. Floyd is right to say it “fundamentally changes who we are,” as he did to the Tri-City Herald in November.Since 2009, WSU has cut almost 600 jobs, eliminated three entire academic programs, consolidated several departments and slashed four administrative vice president positions, according to the Herald. That translates into fewer opportunities for the next generation.
So what does this have to do with athletics? What if, instead of spending the media windfall on seemingly out-of-control salary increases for coaches, half of the money went to the academic side of the universities, helping to limit tuition increases at UCLA or keeping a few professors in their positions at Arizona? Can't be done, you say, because college athletics is a competitive business. True, winning is the basis of all sports, but remember, the Pac-12 is a conference made up of 12 academic institutions whose presidents and chancellors – the CEOs as commissioner Larry Scott likes to call them – run institutions whose primary charge is to educate our youth. Heck, even their athletic departments' primary charge is to educate, to help young men and women grow into productive members of society. So what if those CEOs decided the athletic departments at their member institutions would have realized $1.5 billion from the media deal, with the other $1.5 billion earmarked for educational programs at the schools? Wouldn't those departments have improved? Wouldn't the product on the field and courts been just as exciting? Wouldn't the student body as a whole and the entire university community – even, in the long run, our society – have been impacted in a better way?
I know this is a hot button issue and can engender debate. I hope it does. Well-reasoned debate. Just because I am questioning priorities here doesn't mean I don't love sports and all that it entails. And just because you may have another view on this issue doesn't mean you don't value education and the universities primary mission. It just seems as if, as the money rolls into one department of our educational institutions (and is spent on escalating salaries and new facilities), there hasn't been a lot of serious conversation on whether this is the best use of the income. I know I'm tilting at windmills a bit, but if it gets people talking, I'm happy about that. A lot of university presidents like to say athletics are the front door to the university and that's hard to argue with. But what good does it do to have an ornate, expensive front door if behind the facade are unfinished rooms and a half-empty pantry? Instead of putting another coat of gold paint on the door, maybe it's time to spend money on the finish work inside. What do you think?
• Gonzaga: We asked yesterday who will win the West Coast Conference regular season title and a plurality (42 percent) of you thought it would be Gonzaga (and probably a majority if you consider 22 percent thought two teams would tie and I'm sure most of those figure Gonzaga will be one of the two teams). … The Zags return to the Kennel tonight and the students will be back. That's important, as Jim Meehan's story relates. Jim also has a short look at the weekend and the lead of the college notebook, which includes WSU and Idaho news. … Brigham Young hosts a Loyola Marymount team tonight it defeated 73-65 in Los Angeles. But is it the same team? … The San Jose Mercury News had a live chat with St. Mary's Rob Jones. … Jeff Judkins has become the most successful women's basketball coach in BYU history.
• Washington State: As usual, Christian Caple covers the Cougar and WSU links in his morning post, but if you are lazy, here is his story on the long wait for WSU to play in Beasley. … Christian also has a blog post in which he interacts with Stanford beat writer Elliott Almond, who I've known since Jimmy Carter's presidency. … The weather is a big deal – it's snowing in Spokane again as I write this – but so are the Cardinal. … I missed this yesterday but still wanted to pass it along. Cougfan looked at the changing names on WSU's commitment list. There have been a lot of changes since Leach came aboard. … The performance Terrence Ross put on against the Cougars earned him some respect. … Andy Katz thinks Oregon has a shot at the conference title.
• Chiefs: Dylan Walchuk had a roundabout road to Spokane, as Jess Brown explains in this feature in today's paper.
• Eastern Washington: The Eagles announced next year's football schedule yesterday and it's a doozy. It starts off with back-to-back games at Idaho and Washington State. And, with the Big Sky expanding, they don't play all of the conference's teams, including last year's last-place finisher, Idaho State, coached by former EWU head man Mike Kramer. Jim Allen covers the entire schedule in this story. … The Eagles received a commitment this week from a Southern California running back. … Cal Poly San Luis Obispo joins the Big Sky next year but doesn't get to play the conference's marquee team, Montana. … The Eagles host Portland State on Saturday. Jim has it covered.
• Idaho: The Vandals host Don Verlin's old school, Utah State, on Saturday.
• Preps: Before we get to the links, I want to apologize. I covered a high school game on Saturday and made a mistake. I hate to make mistakes. But I made one in my game story. A Lewis and Clark player who wears No. 15, Julia Moravec, played her tail off guarding Central Valley's best player, Brooke Gallaway, before fouling out. Moravec deserved mention. However, when I read across the roster, I read No. 14's name and typed it in my story. Now that's bad enough, but No. 14 is Devyn Galland, who just happens to be the Tigers' star point guard and out for the season with a knee injury. Doh. My bad. … Gallaway is the subject of Greg Lee's Prep Page feature today. … Greg also has his column, which looks at two of the most successful basketball programs in the state, and a notebook. … Rick Lukens was at the University vs. CV game the other night and caught this great shot which Greg passes along.
• That's it for this morning. As we have said before, we're going to be holding our first live chat at noon Friday here on SportsLink. I hope we'll get some discussion going, maybe on the subject I brought up today or some other aspect of the local sports scene. And we'll try to answer any questions you may have. Until later …