A big part of Scott Woodward’s legacy as University of Washington athletics director was the renovation of Husky Stadium, which he pulled off in 2013 to many huzzahs for $284 million, none of which came out of taxpayer funds.
Another part of his legacy was the Pac-12 Networks, which was supposed to be the revenue-producer sufficient to cover the mortgage payments for the construction debt and much of the department’s annual operating expenses. That didn’t work out so well. When Woodward scooted out to the AD job at Texas A&M in January, he left a department with a projected deficit for 2016 of $14.8 million, prompting outrage from the UW Board of Regents.
That would make him the village idiot. But since his fellow conference ADs and commissioner Larry Scott were complicit in the failure to induce the financial participation of satellite TV operator DirecTV, that makes Woodward only one in a village of idiots. Nearly all are running operating deficits after spending sprees to upgrade facilities to nearly Trumpian levels of over-indulgence.
Another part of his legacy came to light Tuesday when the College Football Playoff rankings were released. In one month, these rankings will be the sole arbiter of which four teams make the CFP.
Alabama, Michigan and Clemson, all undefeated, were the first week’s top three choices. Washington, despite also being undefeated after eight games, was fifth, on the outside looking in. Sneaking into fourth, despite a loss, was none other than Woodward’s new empire, Texas A&M.
Since the Aggies’ lone loss came Oct. 22 to Alabama, 33-14, the 12-person panel decided that because the defeat came at the hands of what amounts to the NFL’s 33rd team, the blow shall not count against.
So if the playoffs were held today, the Huskies, who are 17-point favorites over 4-4 Cal in Berkeley at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, would be left out. In that case, they likely would be given a very lovely parting gift of a spot in the Rose Bowl. Not a bad deal at all, but given all the renovations in the college-bowl neighborhood, the grand manse in Pasadena no longer is the best house on the Street of Dreams.
It would be fun to ascribe the irony of the Aggies’ vault over the Huskies to the diabolical machinations of Woodward. But that requires us to believe that he knew that his old school and his new school would be near the industry pinnacle simultaneously 11 months after he switched jobs.
I know that sports fans abhor a coincidence, and nearly all demand a conspiracy to explain the inexplicable. But having been around the NCAA and its member institutions for a number of years, I feel comfortable in suggesting that if all suddenly found themselves in a dark room, it would take a week for someone to check to see if the lamp remained plugged in.
But it is true that under Woodward’s watch was created the non-conference schedule the Huskies played in September, which included Charlie Brown, Barney Fife and George Costanza. The weakness of that schedule is the reason the Huskies were marked down, creating the opening for Woodward’s team.
But since the schedule was created well before Woodward was enticed by the charms of College Station (“Where Dust Comes to Die” ) over Seattle (“Mud is Life”), it seems hard to hang a fellow with a nothing-noose.
In fact, it is easier to see that Woodward did the Huskies a small favor. UW players can now play the rest of the season with a chip on their shoulder.
The disrespect card is as trite and hackneyed a tool as there is in sports. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t work every time on 18- to 22-year old men, who are years away from full development of their pre-frontal cortex. So they are prone to thinking and doing things foolishly.
Huskies coach Chris Petersen, in his first remark since the rankings came out, told reporters Thursday that he discerned no agitation among the players.
“Our reaction — there’s a lot of football left to be played,” he said. “What else is there to say? And I’m not even talking about everybody else. I’m talking about ourselves. There’s just a lot of football left. How much happens in November? Everything. They get that, and let’s just go play in November.”
Whether there is an analytical tool to measure the impact of disrespect, I’m unsure. What I am certain about is that it will be used, despite Petersen’s dismissal.
As Huskies fans have discerned, Petersen is as disdainful of rankings, media hype and “College Game Day” as Capt. Jean-Luc Picard was of the Borg. Petersen refuses to be assimilated. At the annual Pac-12 media confab in Los Angeles in July, he colorfully explained his dread of media projections, some of which had Washington as national-playoff entrants following a Pac-12 championship.
“We have as much hype as the new Pokemon game that nobody knows nothing about,” he said. “That’s us … Last year the preseason hype was we wouldn’t win four games. And they were dead wrong. I’m really scared that you guys (media) will be dead wrong again because you usually are. That’s why I put no stock in it.”
At 8-0, those pundits are tracking well. Petersen won’t be offering apologies until Dec. 4, when the final CFP rankings come out that set the field. But for the remaining four regular-season games, his players privately will craft an edge out of being “only” the fifth-ranked team in the country.
Even Petersen was moved last week to acknowledge its inevitability: “Human nature,” he said. Which may help Washington avert a nap over the next month in which they will be favored heavily.
For those fans around in 2008 who remember when the Huskies were 0-12, to indulge in this parsing of “insult” is the acme of absurdity. But the players were not around. All they know is the here and now of beating unbeaten, yet apparently scorned.
In college football these days, there is no place more anxiety-ridden that being the fifth dog in a four pork-chop meal. The suspicion is that all that manufactured anger will be taken out on the Cal Bears, the biggest victims of the first-week CFP rankings.
Art Thiel is co-founder of sportspressnw.com.