Washington Huskies

Dave Boling: UW Huskies need more flash, cash to keep up with Oregon Ducks

As fans of Washington Huskies men’s basketball try to regain their balance after the late season slide toward the National Invitation Tournament, it doesn’t help one bit to be confronted with the rise of Oregon to its first-ever No. 1 seed into this year’s NCAA Tournament.

First it was football. Now this.

This situation should be Topic One with candidates who line up to interview as the replacement for recently departed UW athletic director Scott Woodward.

Or maybe the inquisition works its way up to it. Concern for academics? Fine. Student-athlete well-being? Great, very important.

Now, what are you going to do about the Oregon Problem?

Oregon has swept the past 12 football meetings with UW. And now the Ducks have taken seven of the past nine basketball contests.

Oregon has played in two national championship football games since 2010. And now they’re a top-liner in the tourney bracket, an honor the Huskies last enjoyed in 2005.

Woodward, having decamped for Texas A&M, was commendable in his fund-raising and facility upgrading at UW. We may presume that he is aware that donors down there realize the place has to be Texas A&M if they want to stay competitive.

I can’t fault the UW boosters for the current Duck-lag. They’ve ponied up impressively for the renovations to Husky Stadium and the old Hec Ed gym.

And please, withhold arguments that public money should be funneled away from academics, staff or infrastructure to make sports teams more competitive. Those days need to be done. The frills should be privately funded and creatively applied.

The Ducks have left a blueprint for this, exploiting the involvement of Nike founder Phil Knight, which has exceeded heavy funding and free sneakers.

Knight helped them change the image and the brand. He understood that it didn’t matter what the fans or media thought of some of the garish uniform combinations. The players and recruits loved them.

And they likewise gobbled up the high-tech, spaceship locker rooms and mirror-ball helmets.

UW, in the meantime, has honored its hard-won tradition. And to big, fast, athletic recruits — the kind that get you into NCAA tournaments or national football title games — tradition mostly seems stodgy.

Oregon hoops coach Dana Altman, in an ESPN interview Monday, cited the success of the football team as feeding the profile and appeal of the basketball program. And because of the Knight-fueled-and-funded football success: “… We have enough resources … we both have the facilities that can keep us at the highest level.”

Maybe that should lead to the final question in the AD interview. Are you related to, or do you have close, personal ties and fiscal leverage upon any potential sports-addicted, high-rolling Sugar Daddy? A UW alum, preferably.

Surely, there’s way more money to tap into in Seattle than in Oregon. Huge money. Ridiculous money.

But likely regional benefactors have plowed billions into professional sports, computer schools, libraries, and global-health and betterment projects.

Making a difference in people’s lives is admirable and unassailable. But how’s that help come tournament time?

Knight’s influence and Nike’s stamp make recruits think going to Eugene is cool. By most standards, Seattle shouldn’t be nearly as hard to sell as Eugene would be.

I can see the value of a rational and proportional approach to expenditure on college athletics. Particularly as it relates to tax-funded programs.

But university athletics remains a matter of big business. And if you’re in it, your chances of making money at it are tied to having successful teams.

We may note that UW coach Lorenzo Romar graciously promised to pay admission for students at Tuesday’s NIT opener against Long Beach State.

Fact is, though, hosting NIT games isn’t the sort of thing that generates much interest from students or fans or monied boosters.

It’s something the new Husky AD is going to have recognize and address.

  Comments