I’m really shocked that this interview has largely been un-commented on in passionate Husky circles. It’s a really fair representation of where the Athletic Department and key programs are at right now. When you compare this interview with Jon Wilner’s scathing commentary on UCLA, it paints a really sobering picture.
This will be long but I firmly believe that the long-term future of the University of Washington isn’t tied into things like the 2021 Recruiting Class. Instead, the future is going to be based on how UW can position itself to close the gap with the schools in the Big 10 and SEC because those gaps are only going to get wider and wider if moves aren’t made.
I’ll go through each of the main interview subjects in headlines and then offer my commentary in the notes below:
2022-2023 and 2026-2027 Non-Conference Schedules Giant ???
Cohen notes that Utah won the home/home with Florida in 22-23 while also saying scheduling is a “popularity contest” with location, recruiting base, alumni being significant factors
Cohen hits on a number of points here that I think are fair and disturbing trends within CFB. Coker’s been on the crusade for years about how asinine it is that schedules are made 10+ years in advance. Clemson and Georgia recently announced a long-standing series. Many other power brokers have largely kept an incestuous scheduling policy to keep power consolidated. The cynic would say that Florida chose Utah because the threat of Utah being a CFP team is significantly less than that of UW. UW’s inability to get solid home/away matches isn’t going to change in the current structure. If we want to play one of the powers, particularly from the SEC, it’s going to almost assuredly be similar to playing Auburn in Atlanta. Best case is we get a big time school to play us in Vegas or LA … but those battles only serve to create recruiting challenges by bringing those schools closer to the high end West Coast talent.
CFP and Washington’s place in the CFP world
Cohen supports the CFP expanding to 8. She says UW has the potential to win a national championship in ANY sport while citing there are advantages/disadvantages to the P12’s location. Cohen doesn’t shy away from talking about the revenue gap, the number of sports that the P12/UW compete in, and the relative cost of those (Olympic) sports and cost of doing business on the West Coast.
This is one of the most important parts of the interview. I agree with Cohen that any program at UW has the potential to win a national championship. However, I think there’s a line in the sand that needs to be drawn at UW to decide whether or not we want to have the “potential” to win national championships or if we’re going to have an expectation of winning national championships. It’s a subtle difference but the mindset likely needs to be reset in the Athletic Department to empower and support the programs to compete at those levels.
The revenue gap is real and it’s going to get worse as the SEC finalizes it’s new TV deal with ESPN and those distributions are only going to get exponentially higher. The Big 10 stands to make out big time when Fox has no choice but to spend massively to secure those rights. The P12 as it currently stands is left on an island while seemingly few in the P12 power circles seems to understand the implications to it.
The problem that the power brokers of the P12 don’t understand is that their beloved Olympic Sports, which is where the “Conference of Champions” wholly rely upon at this point for its branding. What do they think is going to happen going forward as these other conferences widen the revenue gaps? Do they think it’s all going to go to football and/or men’s hoops? Absolutely not. It’s going to go into the Olympic sports. We already see evidence of this with the strength of the softball programs in the SEC. As “athlete empowerment” becomes a reality, more and more funding will go into these sports.
And what this all really gets down to is how the P12 allocates the resources it has. I’d be willing to bet blind that the P12 allocates a greater % of its Athletic Dept budgets to Olympic sports than other conferences. It’s highlighted by expenses for the conference offices being in the Bay Area vs the SEC in a far cheaper location. The P12 does a tremendous job of making sure that they put investment in areas where the financial return is minimal at best.
Fighting national perception of the PAC12
Cohen pivots the conversation (likely at Caple’s questioning) away from the standard company line about how the P12 gets disrespected and moves it towards UW distancing itself from the conference in terms of external messaging from the P12. She talks about UW controlling what they can control (specifically citing UW donor support in a positive way), that there are good programs in the P12, and the need to keep West Coast kids on the West Coast. Jen tries to spin/minimize the revenue gap as the reason for kids leaving the area and power shift across the country.
This piggy backs off the last section and really hits home in the context of Wilner’s UCLA article (key takeaways being donor support is putrid, support from the general University is even worse, and their AD search is shaping up to be a disaster with little evidence to suggest they give 2 shits about Athletics).
“Controlling what they can control” is a testimonial at how strong our support is from our fans/donors. It’s also a thinly veiled shot at knowing that what the conference is providing isn’t up to par with UW’s peer competitors nationally. You want to know why season tickets went up so dramatically this year? This is your answer. And it also makes sense (in the short-term). UW supporters likely can absorb short-term increases to cover what’s necessary to remain competitive. However, the big problem that Jen faces here is that this short-term solution is a ticking time bomb that you can’t keep going to the well on before it blows up in your face.
Everything right now about UW’s future boils down to the “arms race” in college sports. Media rights will be driving the winners and losers … particularly as the “student athletes” are able to get their piece of the pie. Left unchecked you basically have a pseudo professional sports league quite possibly without any kind of spending controls or regulations. In that world you either find the $$$ or fall way behind. There’s basically no chance that our alumni base and key donors will be able to write the check that media rights are able to write. And that’s why everything comes back to the P12 Conference and its future. Dennis loves to talk about how UW and the P12 small time things. Not being able to see the future is the definition of small time. Solving this issue is the most pressing problem for UW and the P12 (and I’m not sure that the P12 can solve the issue in its current construct).
Keeping kids on the West Coast is one of those things that is an obvious comment. You have to be blind to not realize that the reason kids are leaving is because they are buying hook, line, and sinker that you can’t win on the West Coast. Until there are programs on the West Coast that can prove that they can compete at that level, then the typical geographic advantages that you should have due to proximity are going to be at best on a case by case basis.
Hope for Grad Transfers???
Cohen recognizes that there’s a greater challenge at UW for obvious reasons but notes that progress is being made to find solutions. There’s essentially an acknowledgement that the fit has to be right for it to work out.
It’s not a topic worth talking a ton about and I’m not even sure that it’s worth ever getting the hopes up for, but it’s good to see that 1) it’s been recognized as an issue, 2) there’s an acknowledgment that current college football requires this to be an available avenue, and 3) it’s going to have to be the right fit. I’d take that last spot to mean that you’re talking about someone that probably fits the Joe Burrow profile of being an early transfer, with good academics, that’s likely a multi-year add.
Jimmy Lake the Coach
Jen notes the shift in the acknowledgment of the NFL and building awareness in it instead of running from the facts. The changes between Lake and Petersen are subtle but reflective of Jimmy’s vision. Savings from coaching salaries will be invested in building out greater support staff capabilities.
For UW to win high end recruits whether on the West Coast or nationally, we need to be able to convince kids that all of their dreams can be realized at UW. It’s an area that Petersen missed on big time. Dangling the NFL carrot doesn’t mean that we should be promising kids that by coming to UW that they will make the league. It needs to be merged with the hard work and values that the program held under Pete and by all accounts will continue with under Lake. But we should never lose a recruit because a kid doesn’t think he can get to the NFL.
Increasing the support staff is vital for a number of reasons. One, it frees up the coaches to put a little more focus on recruiting while the support staff is watching more video, etc. It allows for greater emphasis on advanced scouting as well as potentially being able to have more in-season self scouting for tendencies, etc. If you want to be a major player in CFB, this is required. Major college football going forward is essentially NFL-lite. If your organization doesn’t look NFL-lite, then you’re a small time program.
Jimmy the Marketer
Jen notes that Jimmy is very activity in digital marketing and creative. Calls out that Jimmy has a huge desire to having increased engagement with fans and donors alike.
These are all positives to me. We know how much impact social media has in today’s landscape and it’s not coincidental that Jimmy encourages fan engagement in this area. Moreover, it’s consistent with his messaging regarding increasing visibility to the program whether it being an actual spring game (btw I’d expect something similar for the Fall), sitting deep in the stands at basketball games on recruiting weekends with families, and actively engaging donors. He’s also no idiot in realizing that staying in the good graces with donors is a great way to ensure job security (above/beyond winning games). It will make it much easier when he needs funding for this or that for those donors to willingly support.
Michigan fans buying season tickets to ensure a ticket for the UW-Michigan game
Cohen notes that UW saw similar with LSU and Nebraska by saying “that’s just how their fans are” … also notes that the Michigan game alone will make up for any setbacks in gate revenue from the weak P12 home schedule
This was probably the most cringe worthy part of the article for me and it was hidden in the notes at the end (other most cringeworthy part being the potential lack of awareness regarding UW, revenues, and the future of the P12). Saying “that’s just how their fans are” is a loser statement. It should drive a quick trip to the mirror and a deep look into it. Why is it that programs like Michigan, LSU, and Nebraska are “just like that?” Are UW fans “just like that?” Those of us that are I would put up against any other fan in the country in terms of knowledge and support. The problem is that our numbers aren’t at the magnitude of those schools. So how does that get fixed? How does the AD and University drive numbers to increase that base? The fact that there will probably be 10-20k Michigan fans at the opener and a good number of them will be season ticket holders should be viewed as a giant black eye for the program.
Saying that the Michigan game will cover any potential revenue shortfalls is damning and super small time in thought. Between the increase in season ticket prices and what you can almost guarantee is going to be super marked up prices for that game as a single ticket, UW’s going to make sure that they capitalize. The downside of those Michigan season ticket holders is that you’re going to have a saturated secondary market and those tickets are going to be super discounted. Single game tickets bought through UW is going to be fairly low this year IMO and will continue to set a dangerous precedent to fans to just sit back and wait to buy tickets on the secondary market. Two stories that I predict you’ll see in the next 18 months or so: 1) this fall, Cohen will talk about the excitement behind Jimmy Lake driving a sizable increase in season tickets (glossing over how many of them have Midwest zip codes behind them and 2) the heavy attrition in season tickets heading into the 2021 season.