A Dawg of an idea for Husky Stadium

The banner, above-the-fold headline in the Friday, Jan. 25, issue of the Post-Intelligencer could not have been more definite: "Husky Stadium Funding Dead."Only one problem: It's not true.The gist of the story was accurate enough: House Speaker Frank Chopp (D-43rd District), whose district includes Husky Stadium, gave an interview in which he opined that the University of Washington's desired $150 million state package for the renovation of Husky Stadium was unlikely to advance in this session.But somebody forgot to send the memo to UW regent (and former governor) Dan Evans, a prime backer of the plan. He remains confident (in public, anyway) that UW will get its public funding. And UW's state lobbyist, Randy Hodgins, not only echoes Evans' optimism but adds that there was no plan B: If UW doesn't get its public funding in the short legislative session this year, they'll be back asking for it again in the longer budgetary session of 2009.
PRIVATE FUNDINGAt first glance, paying for a renovation of Husky Stadium out of state funds makes sense: Husky Stadium is owned by a state institution (the University of Washington). So why shouldn't the state pay for it?Well, you could start by asking other public Division I football schools around the country, many of which have renovated and even expanded their stadiums in recent years and none of which have used public money. Some, like the University of Oregon, got their money primarily from one rich sugar daddy (in U of O's case, Nike billionaire alumnus Phil Knight). Others, like Pac-10 rivals Oregon State and California, have done it by private fund-raising. Texas A&M is working on an expansion to a 110,000-seat stadium that way. At the University of Michigan, they're keeping pace by hoping to sell a bunch of fancy, new skybox suites.
THE BIG BUSINESS OF FOOTBALLOut of dozens of public universities, not one went hat in hand to their state legislatures; they all used private funding. Why? Because fielding a competitive football team, while a big boost to a university's visibility and prestige, has absolutely nothing to do with the school's core missions of education and research. The polite fictions of a nonprofit enterprise fueled by student-athletes are also pretty laughable. College football is big business, no less so because it's attached to the gigantic corporation that is a large public university. As for the athletes, they're there to play football and may not care about the scholarships that are their only compensation for the many millions of dollars they bring the university. (Millions promptly spent, of course, on the athletic department.) Just because UW can get away with unpaid labor doesn't make a big-time football program like UW's any less of a business. Heck, most businesses would love to find a way to minimize their labor costs like this.
VOTER OPPOSITIONAnd there are other problems with the notion of spending millions of scarce state dollars on a facility used by the public only six or seven times a year - ones specific to Washington state, UW and our area: There's a long history here of voter opposition to public financing of sports complexes. Funding for what would become Safeco Field was turned down repeatedly by Seattle voters before the state Legislature approved it anyway. Seahawks owner Paul Allen narrowly won a statewide vote for funding for what's now Qwest Field, but King County voters soundly rejected his measure. And most recently, more than 70 percent of Seattle voters passed Initiative 91, which mandated that any public investment in a new Sonics arena must make money for the city - a provision that has the Sonics' out-of-town owners threatening to move the franchise.
FUNDING OTHERS?Moreover, UW's renovation will cost a lot more than $150 million. Why? Well, aside from the complications caused by Sound Transit's building of a light-rail station in front of Husky Stadium at the exact same time Husky Stadium would be worked on, there's the matter of Martin Stadium. Washington State University's football stadium in Pullman is smaller than Husky Stadium and just as old and creaky. If the state Legislature funds improvements for one, it'd be hard-pressed not to fund the other, as well.Especially with people like Sen. Margarita Prentice, a South Seattle legislator who was the prime sponsor of the Sonics' attempt to get state money and who is now the prime sponsor for the UW beg-a-thon.
OTHER, MORE OUTSTANDING NEEDSIn the end, the only reason UW isn't doing what every other public football factory in the country has done - namely, tapping wealthy alumni for the money - is that the alumni aren't ponying up, because in recent years its football team has sucked. So why should the public pay for fair-weather fans and the team's lack of on-field success? Go ask Margarita; perhaps she'll know. And while you're there, tell her that funding for education, health care, transportation solutions, public safety and a host of other issues matter a lot more than being able to watch an amateur football team while in greater comfort.Geov Parrish can be reached at needitor@nwlink.com.[[In-content Ad]]