On Friday afternoon, The Times spoke with UW athletic director Jen Cohen about a host of issues surrounding the Huskies. A transcript of the second part of that conversation can be found below.
If you missed it, here is part one of our conversation.
How would you evaluate where the men’s and women’s basketball programs are right now and where they need to go in the near future?
“They’re kind of in different places, even though they’re both struggling. We have higher expectations for how we’re performing in both of those sports, on the men’s side and on the women’s side. We’ll have an opportunity when the seasons are over to really do a deep dive, which we always do, into all factors of the program. There’s still a lot of basketball to be played. But they’re kind of in different places. The women, we had our first home game in like 45 days last week (due to a COVID-19 outbreak). They had big gaps in their schedule. They had momentum in the beginning and then they kind of lost all of that.
“Then the men … I feel for our guys. They’ve stayed healthy. They’re working hard. They’ve had some moments of improvement and they’ve had some moments of stepping back. But for all of our teams — and this isn’t actually equitable — they just didn’t have a lot of time together once the seasons ended last year. Some programs certain places had more flexibility for big gatherings and open gyms and things like that. They’re in different places for different reasons. But we have higher expectations and I feel really confident that we’re going to develop good plans when the seasons end in both of those sports.”
Is UW men’s basketball coach Mike Hopkins’ job in jeopardy?
“Absolutely not. I believe in Mike. I’m supportive of Mike. I’m excited to be his partner and figure out how we’re going to reevaluate things after this year. We’re looking to still move forward with the basketball (facility) project. Sometimes these things are cyclical. Sometimes they’re really frustrating. There’s nobody that’s more upset with losing and where this program is right now than Mike Hopkins and me. So I’m confident that we’re going to come up with a plan at the end of the year and we’re going to get headed back in the right direction.”
A federal name, image and likeness bill was introduced this week. Where do things stand with UW on that front and how has the athletic department prepared for the inevitable passing of NIL laws?
“I appreciate the question on that. I’m a believer in our students having the opportunity to make money off their name, image and likeness, like any other student would at the University of Washington. So I’m an advocate for it. At this point with where we are — I’m not saying this was the right strategy, but with where we are now — a federal bill is really the only option. Because we have programs that compete for national championships, and we have to follow national rules. If we have state-by-state NIL, it will be even more inequitable than it already is.
“The concern really for me with NIL is that it’s really hard to figure out the guardrails. How do you eliminate inducement? I actually just had a conversation with a business school class on this, and a couple of our football players — Jackson Sirmon and Cade Otton — are in this class. We had this conversation about, how do you keep donors from doing certain things? How do you avoid that inducement? How do you keep pressure off these kids when they’re young? My preference would be that none of those opportunities happen until you’re a student, and then we’d obviously have to have a lot of support resources around you. But I think our students deserve an opportunity to do that.”
Speaking of the business school, I know former UW coach Chris Petersen is the Fritzky Chair in Leadership there. What is your relationship like with him at this point and how involved is he, if at all, with the athletic department?
“One other thing about (the Foster School of Business) that I think is interesting with NIL, that I wanted to say because I think it’s important for our community, is that our name, image and likeness program that we’re preparing for is going to be part of our career development program at UW. We see it as an opportunity for students to not just benefit financially when they’re here, but learn some things about how they can do that through their lifetime. So we’ve created a partnership with the Foster School of Business on an NIL class that will be accessible for all of our student-athletes but also for non-athletes on campus. So I’m really excited about that. Frank Hodge, who used to be our faculty athletic rep, is the dean of the Foster School of Business. So he’s been really instrumental in that. Coach Pete (Chris Petersen) will have some influence there as well. He was actually on the call the other day when I talked with students about name, image and likeness and other things that are trending in college sports.
“So (Petersen) is super engaged. He’s formally working with us as a ‘coach of the coaches’ with another person, Brett Ledbetter, who has a company called ‘What Drives Winning.’ Brett and coach Pete meet with all of our head coaches once a month and are doing a variety of different professional development exercises with them. So he’s just been a phenomenal added resource for our coaches. I get the opportunity to talk with him often, weekly a lot of times, about a number of issues going on in the department or in the industry and get his counsel. So it’s been great. My plan is to find any way to have him be part of our department for as long as we can.”
In terms of fan attendance for home football games next season, what are you preparing for and what are you expecting?
“Not sure what to expect. We’re going to prepare for everything, but our goal is to have a full stadium in the fall. We’ll be prepared to adapt to whatever the state and the county and the university provide from a guidance standpoint. It’s humbling in this whole process to realize what you can control and what you can’t control, and protocols and policies around gatherings is not the athletic department’s decision. So we’re going to have to see where the pandemic is, how successful the vaccines are and where our state lands on outdoor events. What I can tell you is we’ve had a great relationship with the county and we are moving forward now, since we moved to phase two, in trying to get some fans at some of our outdoor events — parents and hopefully a small group of fans — before the end of the spring. Our hope is we’re going to continue to build off of that for football season next year. I’ve learned that this thing changes every day. It’s a roller-coaster for all of us, so our staff will be ready for every scenario for football season next year.”
So, here’s one scenario: If fans are in the stands next season for football, will beer and wine be available at football games next season?
“That is our hope, but that has not been approved. We have presented that, and that concept needs university and liquor board support still. But that is in motion right now.”
Are you optimistic that you’ll get that approval?
“I don’t see why we wouldn’t. We have had a very successful beer and wine sales rollout (plan) for this athletic department for the last four years. This plan has been methodical. It’s been thoughtful. We evaluate it every year. It started with our outdoor sports, then it went to our indoor arena. And now we’re expanding to football. This vision and this plan was actually created by our MBA students at the Foster School of Business. There’s a lot of data about how you can actually manage beer and wine consumption in venues by actually having it available, versus what’s going on if you leave our stadium at halftime and check out the parking lots. So I am optimistic, but I don’t have enough information to tell you that this is going to be approved yet.”
Is there an update in terms of rescheduling the Michigan football game at Husky Stadium?
“We’ve been working on this every week, our staff and their staffs. (Michigan AD Warde Manuel) is a stand-up guy. He’s trying to do the right thing. The deal with them has just been that if you look at their schedule you can see that they’re full. So we’re trying to be creative about how we can create an opening on their schedule, because it’s just really important for our team and for our program and for our fans to get this game back. We’ve been tireless on this. Our COO, Jason Butikofer, has been on it like every single week with Michigan’s staff, with different ideas and creative ways to do it. So we’re 100% committed and we’re going to just keep having those conversations and putting the pressure on to get this thing done.”