The University of Washington, bowing to political reality, has announced it will find the money for a renovated Husky Stadium by itself, not hitting up the taxpayers for $150 million or so. The cost of the fix will be reduced to more like $200 million by putting off some features. And, bowing to another kind of reality, the stadium will probably be named for some big corporate sponsor.
Thus ends one of the dumbest political moves in Mark Emmert's career as U.W. president. Legislators absolutely hate voting public funds for sports stadiums, almost as much as they dislike the U.W. No way were they going to go along with this request in hard times, especially when everyone knew that the missing funds could be made up by a corporate naming sponsor and more premium seats. To compound the political problems, the WSU Cougars wanted improvements to their stadium, which would have upped the price of the Husky fix.
To be fair, Emmert was under pressure from his regents, pushing for the state dole for the stadium, and from Dan Evans, who had become convinced that the votes were there for state funding. (Maybe in the days when Evans was governor and Republicans were rational creatures those votes were there, but no longer.) At any rate, down went the U.W. lobbying squadrons to lecture the benighted legislative barons — and down went the university's support in Olympia.
Now comes repair time. Probably the essential step in this regard is the departure of Emmert, heading toward summer's end to Indianapolis to lead the NCAA. To nearly everyone's surprise, the politically very adept Emmert did not manage his relationship with House Speaker Frank Chopp and House Democrats at all well. Chopp and Emmert in the end cordially despised each other. (Relations with Gov. Gregoire are very good, by contrast, and not too bad in the Senate.) As the U.W. leadership internalized and escalated this feud, relations in Olympia became embittered. Emmert only made things worse by clinging for way too long to his very high salary while nearly everyone was taking cuts.
Throwing in the towel on Husky Stadium is one good move. But what really matters is the kind of new president, and interim president, the university picks. Some, thinking the university is deeply wounded by the recession and the punitive House Democrats, argue for a much more diplomatic next president, one who might rescue the relationship of state school and state before divorce proceedings begin. The example of former Sen. David Boren and the University of Oklahoma is cited by this camp. Likewise, naming Provost Phyllis Wise as interim president (the likely choice) might be a signal of continuing the armed-resistance approach of the U.
One other observation. If Emmert is to be faulted for letting his pique over Chopp get out of hand, so too his rush to bigtime athletics, with huge salaries and stadiums and all the fixings, is also questionable. Emmert and his top aide, Scott Woodward, clearly come out of the King Football world and the skybox mentality for donors and patrons of education. Scaling back on that front is another big item on the next president's must-do list.