PULLMAN – It doesn’t take much to heat up a rivalry – or take it to a new level.
Washington State and 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 a 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, even if it was to his detriment or to the health of his department,” Woodward was quoted as saying.
“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, Washington State made a decision to not get involved in light of the financial stresses on a Legislature dealing with a $9 billion deficit, Sterk said.
“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.”
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. 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.”
If the issue were revived after the economy improved, Sterk said 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. 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’s doesn’t, so the legislative request was just a way to catch up.
That’s patently false, according to Sterk. The athletic department receives about 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.”
Sterk said the two athletic directors hadn’t talked since the Times story appeared, but both are scheduled to attend Pac-10 meetings 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.”