The Huskies' benevolant basketball coach might have started a trend by giving his bonus back to the fans. On the other side of the state, WSU is going to need a lot more than Hopkins' $15,000 bonus to balance its budget.

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Pac-12 Stock Report

⇑ Rising: Utah athletics

For the first time since the Reagan administration, Utah has a new athletic director.

I’ll admit slight surprise that the Utes went with an outsider in Mark Harlan: Typically, continuity is the preferred approach when the machinery is functioning properly.

The Utes promoted from within for their president, after all (Ruth Watkins), and hired a search firm (Ventura Partners) that had not been a major player in Power Five AD vacancies.

But the Utes, and Ventura, should be commended for cutting against the grain, for considering the possibility that new blood would prove beneficial.

Had I compiled a list of outside candidates for the Ute vacancy, Harlan surely would have been on it — just as he was on the Hotline’s short list for the Cal vacancy.

Harlan spent the previous four years running South Florida’s 17-sport department in the AAC; he knows the Pac-12 from his time at Arizona and UCLA; he learned the landscape from several sharp ADs; and he’s viewed as a first-rate fundraiser.

His boldest hire, undoubtedly, was grabbing Charlie Strong to take over USF football after Willie Taggart left for Oregon.

In Salt Lake City, bold moves aren’t required — at least not now. Chris Hill left the department in exquisite shape:

There is no need to change football or men’s basketball coaches, the budget is in solid shape, and the financial foundation is in place for the Rice-Eccles renovation.

Mostly, Harlan provides Utah with a steady hand to build on existing success and navigate the Pac-12.

⇑ Rising: Pac-12 basketball

In addition to the good news on the recruiting and NBA draft fronts, the conference is making smart choices with the schedule by considering a hand-crafted approach:

Engineering a portion of the intra-conference lineup to ensure the top teams play each other twice, thereby increasing the number of quality games on each resume.

The schedule model used for the past seven years was based on a rotation established when the Pac-12 expanded:  Without a double-round robin format, teams play just one game against a handful of pre-determined opponents each season.

(In 2017-18, for example, the Arizona and Los Angeles schools only played once, in Arizona.)

The model under consideration would allow for a measure of flexibility:

The top teams — as determined by an offseason vote of the coaches — would be assured of playing each other twice each season, eliminating any competitive imbalance and adding a quality game to the resume for each.

Granted, the change would be on the scheduling margins, affecting one or two games for just handful of potential NCAA Tournament contenders.

And there’s no guarantee the coaches will accurately identify the top teams.

Their ballots, after all, are driven by self-interest — to a far greater extent than the voting in the preseason media poll, which is published too late (October) to be used in scheduling decisions.

But the hand-crafted approach is something, and the conference must be as creative as possible when it comes to scheduling for NCAA success.

⇑ Rising: Washington coach Mike Hopkins

The Pac-12 Coach of the Year revealed this week how he would spend his $15,000 bonus for winning the award: Buying Starbucks gift cards for Husky fans.

The giveaway is schedule for this afternoon at a location on campus. Hopkins set the gift card value at $12, meaning he will hand out 1,250 of them.

“Our team’s mantra all year has been Tougher Together, and our fans are a huge part of that,” he noted.

If so inclined, one could deem this a great marketing ploy by a coach earning $2 million per year — it’s the equivalent of less than one percent of his base salary. What’s the big deal, right?

But that viewpoint seems more than a bit jaded: Hopkins’ plan has a refreshingly wholesome component.

He could have collected the COY cash, not uttered a peep about giving it away, and nobody would have given it a moment’s thought, because that’s what every COY in every conference has done forever.

Might we see similar moves from other coaches in coming seasons? It seems Hopkins, intentionally or not, has raised the bar for his peers.

Which is a good thing.

⇓ Falling: Arizona State

Speaking of giving back: May we present … ASU athletic director Ray Anderson.

Not only is Anderson’s bonus ($350,000) far larger, he did far less to earn the paycheck than did Hopkins: It’s based on the academic performance of ASU’s teams.

Perhaps Anderson could buy Taco Bell gift cards for the Sun Devil athletes who did the classwork that got Anderson his bonus? Err …

That would be an NCAA violation, of course, and the Hotline isn’t seriously suggesting that Anderson should give away that kind of cash.

Nor do we begrudge him the money, however preposterous it seems: $350,000 for an AD who doesn’t oversee the athletes who produced the grades that produced the bonus.

It’s comical, actually — just as Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott’s $4.8 million compensation in FY16 is comical. But let’s not blame Anderson, or Scott: Get what you can get and don’t apologize.

Instead, lay responsibility at the feet of the administrators who approved the contracts.

And wouldn’t you know it: One man’s fingerprints are one both Anderson’s bonus and Scott’s contract:

Arizona State president Michael Crow, who also signed off on the $12 million buyout of Todd Graham and the in-season extension/raise for Bobby Hurley and all the capital projects and the addition of ice hockey as an NCAA sport.

The Hotline isn’t quite ready to deem the Sun Devils’ spending as profligate, but we’re inching in that direction.

We not only monitor Pac-12 developments on the field but also off: Everything from budgets and contracts to debt service payments and spending trends.

It has become abundantly clear over the past 12-18 months that ASU’s administration takes a different view of expenditures than most, if not all of its peers.

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⇓ Falling: Washington State’s budget

As the Hotline types this stock report, the Cougars are presenting their plans to balance the budget to the university’s Board of Regents.

I wonder if the regents will manage to collectively keep a straight face.

The Cougars have a $68 million cumulative shortfall, which is expected to zoom to $85 million in five years.

Except they have a plan to prevent that from happening — a plan that reminds me of the old Steve Martin joke:

“‘Steve, how can I be a millionaire … and never pay taxes?’ First, get a million dollars.”

WSU will ask the regents for help in eliminating the current debt load, then present a strategy for maintaining a balanced budget.

Here’s the problem: The plan relies on a 27 percent increase in revenue over five years, per the Spokesman. And that increase is rooted in assumptions — a student-fee hike, jumps in ticket sales and conference distributions, etc. — that often don’t fully materialize.

The entire Cougar community would be best off facing the grim reality:

Schools like WSU, with their small recruiting bases and modest success in the major sports, also have below-average organic revenue streams (i.e., ticket sales, donations).

They cannot compete for titles without spending, but they cannot generate the income needed to offset the required levels of expenditures …

Which makes annual shortfalls inevitable.

The only other option, it seems, is to spend like a program that doesn’t care about winning. And that’s worse.