Fitting that the final game in Husky Stadium 1.0 Saturday should be against Oregon. The decrepit, 90-year old relic is as big a reason for the Ducks’ domination of the Huskies as was Washington’s travails with the NCAA rulebook under Don James and Rick Neuheisel.
From 1974 to 1993, Washington won 17 of the 20 games against the Ducks. But Oregon has won 12 of the past 16, including the last seven in a row, by an average margin of 26 points. That’s a butt-kicking so relentless that Oregon probably has a special shoe for it.
Why not? Shoes made the Ducks.
In 2002, Oregon grad and Nike chairman Phil Knight paid for most of a $90 million expansion and renovation of Autzen Stadium in Eugene that made one of the nation’s premier places to play and watch college football. With the building came locker, meeting and weight rooms that are about one chandelier shy of the Palace of Versailles, only with wi-fi.
As recruiting inducements go, the football facility is second only to women. The Huskies have been behind ever since (in buildings, not women).
When Husky Stadium 2.0 opens in 2013, the UW athletic department will have comparable facilities. But it a decade will have been lost when the Ducks ascended to Pac-12 and national eminence, as demonstrated by their appearance in the BCS national title game Jan. 10.
It’s hard to quantify just how facilities create atmosphere for winning. But anyone who doubts the power of bling on a teenager hasn’t been around much.
“I think it’s a real factor,” Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian said Monday. “From a facilities standpoint Oregon has done a really nice job of staying at the front of the line with the things they are doing.
“Kids want to know — whether it’s the weight room, the training room, the locker room — that they are at state-of-the-art facilities. It’s like being in the National Football League and you’re a free agent on a tour. You go somewhere like the VMAC (the Seahawks facility in Renton, an $80 milllion plant paid for by franchise owner Paul Allen) and that’s why they’re able to sign free agents, because guys like those features.”
Oregon’s climb from stooge-ly to studly is not all about gold-plating. Sarkisian mentioned reasons such as recruiting in California, an early commitment to the spread, up-tempo offense and innovations in defensive motion and formation.
All probably true, but in college football, as with most things, it all starts with money, because there are no NCAA rules limiting spending on facilities, only on providing $20 to a player for dinner.
It’s estimated that Knight will have spent more than $300 million on facilities at Oregon, including a new basketball arena named after his late son. The Husky Stadium renovation has a budget of $200 million, all from private donors and ticket buyers, none of whom has emerged as knight-like as Knight.
The building envy became clear, as well as humorous, a year ago. Before the Washington game in Eugene, UW athletic director Scott Woodward told KJR radio during an interview that while the athletic facilities were wonderful, Oregon’s academic standards had fallen.
“It’s an embarrassment what [the University of Oregon] academic institution is, and whats happened to them as far as their state funding has gone,” he said. “In my mind. its a wonderful athletic facility, but theyve watched it at the expense of the university (going) really down.
UW interim president Phyllis Wise didn’t care for the Duck diss, and ordered Woodward to apologize. When it read more like a clarification, she ordered him to do make a personal apology, which he did. Apparently the matter is finished, because Woodward has been seen at recess as well as after-school activities.
While it was wonderful to see that the traditional contempt between the schools has reached the level of the ADs, Woodward was trying to make a point about how state funding has undercut universities across the country. That’s true, but the last thing in these times a state legislature wants to do is use public money on a sports facility, no matter how needy.
Even though Husky Stadium is a public facility at a state university, and was in need of upgrades to meet safety codes, funding the renovation out of Olympia was an immediate non-starter. Sonics fans will testify to the difficulty. So after several years of futility, boosters and athletic department officials finally put the renovation in private hands, selling bonds to cover $150 million, and private donations for the balance.
It would have been much easier and cheaper to have a rich Microsoftie come forward as Knight did. But for whatever reasons, it didn’t happen, so the collection plate is being passed among the many.
It’s a better way. Knight not only has bought the athletic department, with say-so over the hires and fires — and some say, a little play-calling during football games — most of the university is beholden to him.
But he also bought the school a national profile it would have never obtained any other way, and it gave the Ducks a big football recruiting advantage over the hated, formerly arrogant Huskies.
Most Ducks fans are happy to live with the compromise to integrity as long as the Huskies are thumped steadily. But change is underway, even though change is still a 14-point underdog Saturday.
Huskies sports sentiment will be given a loving airing this week. Then it’s back to the college sports arms race, and the Huskies in 2013 will no longer bring a knife to a gunfight.