The most unheralded, yet best annual event in Seattle sports went off so well Thursday it prompted a tough, square-built retired cop to get all gushy.
“An outstanding deal,” said Garth Gaines. “It’s been fantastic — the Washington Athletic Club is a great place in a great location.
“And the award is very meaningful — voted on by opposing players. That’s the cherry on top. Not a popularity contest. It’s how you played.”
His exuberance was inspired by his son, Greg, who won the Morris Trophy, for 39 years the Pac-12 Conference’s award for best defensive lineman. The mood at the WAC’s annual luncheon improved when the Morris Trophy for best offensive lineman went to Greg’s Washington teammate and friend, Kaleb McGary.
As the senior Gaines said, the voters were the opponents, the constituency that knows best (why doesn’t this credible balloting choice happen more often?).
Since the vote was was only the second time in the Seattle-based award’s history that both recipients were Huskies, it was fair to say that Chris Petersen’s mood also was elevated.
— Coach Petersen (@CoachPeteUW) January 18, 2019
The last time UW double-dipped was in 1991 under coach Don James, when Lincoln Kennedy and Steve Emtman were the winners. So we’re talking rare air here.
McGary and Gaines are off to anticipated NFL careers beginning with the draft in April. Scouting speculation has McGary (6-8, 324 pounds) going in the second round, perhaps late first. Gaines (6-2, 216) is seen as a third-day (rounds 4-7) selection.
For Huskies fans, a salutary development regarding the college careers of both was that they stayed for their full terms, including the bowl game, despite having talent that would have allowed them to be rolling in pro football cash for the past year.
A record number, 135, of juniors and redshirt sophomores (list released Friday is here) have sought and received eligibility for this year’s draft, up from last season’s record 119. Another 32 have graduated but still have eligibility left. And a handful of players chose to skip a final bowl-game appearance since most of the games lack meaning.
It’s apparent that more players are deciding in favor of their own business interests, which seems only fair since the college entertainment business has been exploiting players for more than a century.
But thoughts of early withdrawal did not get very far with Gaines, including the option of sitting out the Rose Bowl to avoid risking injury against Ohio State.
“Missing the Rose Bowl? I’m not into that,” said Gaines, a native of La Habra, in Orange County. “No one on our team, that I heard of, considered that. If you’re doing it for yourself, it’s selfish. You’re letting your team down, especially if he’s an integral piece of the team.
“I feel like it’s not really a trend, just a little more than before. I hope it’s not a trend. People need to be committed to their teams.”
But are teams committed to players?
Relative to 40 years ago, when Alabama coach Bear Bryant would stockpile 120-plus quality players just to keep them away from opponents, things are better.
Football scholarships are down to 85. Graduates with eligibility left can transfer without sitting out (as did Gardner Minshew to Washington State). And the NCAA grudgingly committed to a per-player stipend that goes to help with the total cost of attendance (COA) for expenses beyond the scholarship’s provision of tuition and books.
But no player is getting paid for the use of his likeness that helps his school roll in millions in annual revenues. It has ever been thus.
However, the state Legislature will holding a hearing Jan. 22 on a bill that proposes players be allowed to receive endorsement money. If made into law, the NCAA and conferences that attempted to stop the benefit would be in violation of state consumer-protection laws.
Proposed by Rep. Drew Stokesbary of Auburn, the House Republican floor leader (yes, there are Republican office holders in King County), House Bill 1084 has little chance of advancing. But merely starting the conversation about state intervention to end the anachronism of amateurism in a capitalist marketplace may send a shudder through the NCAA that Mr. Richter’s scale will note.
Yes, it’s true, a four-year scholarship has value. But the job is 30 hours a week in season and comes with health hazards. It is nowhere commensurate with the revenues produced by the entertainment. Extra player income from legal, approved sources is more than justifiable.
To help understand, the amount of the COA per player at UW is $2,833, a figure set by the same university office that determines the cost of tuition. In the Seattle housing market, that buys little more than an REI tent, a blue tarp and a camp stove.
Prompted by my question about whether that was sufficient, McGary explained.
“I’m a little bit biased,” he said, “but our football team does so much for the university and our other athletic teams (providing the cash to fund non-revenue sports operations), I would like to see us get a little bit more. Not a lot.
“The issue is cost of living, especially in Seattle. It’s two grand a month to rent just a half-decent apartment, not a real nice place.”
McGary said that the university cuts the monthly stipend in half in December and June, because school is not in session. But the bills continue.
“The landlord doesn’t care,” he said. “The NCAA needs to accept that. That really hurts us. Any money we save during the year has to go to cover that. I think that is ridiculous.”
McGary proposed a COA figure of one and a half to two times the market’s average rent.
“I don’t think players should make $60,000 a year, but (the stipend) can be more than what it is,” he said. “I appreciate the help we do get. But there’s a little more to be done. One day it will get to a good spot.”
By then, if all goes well in the NFL, McGary and Gaines will no longer have to be concerned with a hand-to-mouth existence. But perhaps by then, it will dawn on the NCAA that if it weren’t so financially negligent, top players might find it worthwhile to stick around for all four years.