Prowess & Punishment

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

UW's head football coach, Jimmy Lake, injected extra venom into the Duck v. Husky rivalry last weekend. This time the rivalry spilled off the field and into the halls of academia as Lake contrasted player recruiting at the two schools. "Our battles are really - the schools that we go against are way more ... have academic prowess, like the University of Washington. Notre Dame. Stanford. USC," declared Lake. "We go with a lot of battles toe-to-toe all the way to the end with those schools. So I think that's made up in your world. In our world, we battle more academically prowess (sic) teams."

Even if you're not a football fan, as a Duck you can't help but be offended by the insult and its underlying stupidity. The Mercury News of San Jose editorialized before game day, correctly noting Lake's invidious comparisons can not be supported. Wrote Jon Wilner, "In an unprecedented feat, Lake managed to turn Oregon and its head coach, Mario Cristobal, into sympathetic figures. Oregon! With its Nike money and Nike facilities and Nike uniform combinations and Nike partnerships. And the Nike money." The Mercury News didn't even scratch the surface of this coaching faux pas.

First, as much as sports journalists who cover teams that aren't Oregon like to bash on its "Nike money," the truth is that Seattle is not disadvantaged in terms of its donor base. Sorry if the Microsoft poster children for Jet City's billionaire class aren't pouring more into the UW football program. Paul Allen (RIP), whose father worked at UW, chose to go to Washington State. Bill Gates, who could have driven his '67 Mustang to campus in about 10 minutes, ended up going to Harvard. Hmmm.

Part of a college's ranking in sources like U.S. News is determined by alumni donations. It's a critical part of the equation that ensures that the Ivies (east and west) always retain their status, regardless of how they index in terms of grade inflation. UW's nesting in Seattle, one of the world's hottest economies, is a huge advantage compared to Eugene.

Second, Lake and all Huskies must realize that the "prowess" insult is like throwing fresh horse crap—it fans out and hits every Pac 12 opponent who isn't Stanford or USC (his ‘prowess' schools). What is Lake saying about Arizona, Colorado, and Utah? To understand the bitterness of the UW-WSU rivalry is to understand that Cougars have been dealing with this kind of arrogance for over a century.

Lake, like most Huskies of one stripe or another, like to imagine themselves to be looking down from the tallest ivory tower in the Pacific Northwest, as if to strain their gaze far enough they would be looking eye to eye with Stanford to the south or Northwestern to the east. Let's put that "prowess" to the test. Every university within the Pac 12 makes the Carnegie Foundation's list of 131 tier one doctoral research universities. Washington and Oregon are both included among the 66 members of the AAU. Both schools rank in the top 100 universities in America, public or private, according to U.S. News & World Report. Whatever perch the Huskies claim for themselves within such rankings is partially attributable to geographic differences, in-state demographics, and the unique depression-era split between UO and OSU programs.

UW's need for vicarious association extends to the football field. The Huskies' near-annual timeshare to start the year in the Rose Bowl ended with the grunge movement in the mid-90s, around the time Oregon's program was on the rise. It's a situation for which Husky fans have needed counseling. Four consecutive losing seasons under head coach Willingham led to the Steve Sarkisian era in 2009. Sark brought middling success to Husky Stadium before being asked to take a leave of absence and eventually fired in 2015. The Los Angeles Times reported that Sarkisian had been involved in numerous alcohol-related incidents.

Such embarrassments seemed to be behind Washington after luring Chris Peterson from Boise State to return the Huskies to national prominence. When he left in 2019, just one year after he led the team to the Rose Bowl, Peterson resigned and Jimmy Lake took the reigns. Not only have UW's losing ways returned, so has its bad form.

It must be excruciating for UW fans each year to get out-played, out-recruited, out-dressed, and even out-classed by some small town Oregon team where the median income is half what it is in Seattle. After all, what athletic prospect in his/her right mind would reject a chance to someday watergate in Lake Washington on a luxury yacht and prefer a bucolic collegiate experience at a program that achieved success organically through its own alumni affiliations, including Phil Knight?

I would like to thank Jimmy Lake for reminding not just Oregon, but most of the Pac 12, how University of Washington really thinks about them. He asked for a whoopin' last week and he got one from the Ducks. Arizona State, Colorado, and Washington State should line up to do the same. I hope his "prowess" remark gets read out in the Oregon locker room before these rivalry games for years to come.

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