Q&A with Washington president Michael Young
Washington president Michael Young came to Seattle in 2011 after seven years as president at Utah. While at Utah, Young helped lead the Utes from the Mountain West into the Pac-12.
SI: How did you feel about the cost-of-attendance stipend proposal?
Young: If I look at our student-athletes, I realize, at least from the University of Washington's perspective, if they weren't on football or basketball scholarships, an awful lot of them would be on need-based scholarships anyway. We have something called the Husky Promise, and out of that, something like 8,500 of our undergraduates actually don't pay tuition or fees. My guess is an awful lot of my athletes would be in that situation. But the kids who are on solely need-based aid can basically work 20 hours a week or whatever and earn a little pizza money or earn a little money for tattoos or whatever they want. Our athletes, on the other hand, work 40-50 hours a week for the school, and they don't get anything except what these other kids get without having to work for it. It seems when one thinks about simple equity, from that perspective, it's hard to argue that these kids shouldn't get something. I pay teaching assistants more than I pay my athletes for a lot less work than my athletes put in.
Everyone says, "Well, they're getting a great education." They are, but so are a lot of other kids. And they're doing it on pretty much the same terms, except the other kids get to work and these kids don't. So many of the little niggling violations you get out of the NCAA are because the kids are so constrained. They're not even able to do what their classmates can do. That just seems not sensible, and it's certainly not fair. I don't find the equity argument compelling. I actually find the equity is running the other way. I do understand that some schools don't have the budget to do it, and that makes it difficult. In those circumstances, I'd do it conference by conference. For the most part, we compete largely within our conferences or with similarly situated conferences. I don't think it puts anyone dramatically at a competitive disadvantage. It may in some cases, but not much.
SI: Would your opinion have been different as Utah's president?
Young: Even at Utah, I would have supported this. It would have been on a conference-by-conference basis, so I would have needed the support of my colleagues. The real problem for athletic programs, to be honest, is not "Do we pay the athletes a little extra money here and there?" The real challenge for athletic programs is tuition is going up so much. Particularly at public institutions, the states are disinvesting so much. The cost of education isn't going up. My cost of educating the student is actually less than it was 20 years ago, but the state is paying an awful lot less of that. So, consequently, tuition has gone up to cover the portion the state is no longer paying. That has more of an impact on athletic programs than almost anything else.
SI: How do you feel about the college football postseason?
Young: I think there are some competing values here. I've kind of had this position all along. The public wants and I think there is some sensibility to some variation on a playoff season. I, frankly, would keep it very small for a couple of reasons. Anything large either cuts way back on the regular season or it extends the season way into the next academic semester. If there's going to be a playoff, it needs to be a relatively small playoff. That may or may not satisfy the public. There is some benefit to a playoff. I've said that all along. But I think I would keep it rather small. I just think you have to keep the academic calendar with the paramount nature of academics in mind. I think there's something nice about the bowl system. It's a little bit of a reward for the kids at the end of the season. In basketball, there are 90-something teams that get to go and have at least one postseason game. You really can't possibly provide a playoff system in football that works like that. The bowl system provides a nice reward at the end of a hard-fought season for these kids. They get fussed over. It's usually a fun game. Maybe there are too many bowls. Maybe there are a few too many bowls, and maybe we ought to heighten the standards a little. I'd be OK with that. I don't really have strong views on that one way or another. I wouldn't want a playoff system that was so robust that it would eliminate the bowl system, but I don't think you could get it there. I can't see any way you could get there. I would keep at least some major part of the bowl system intact.
SI: What makes the bowls so appealing?
Young: It doesn't make money for the school. Anybody who thinks the schools are in it for money -- at anything other than the two or three major bowls -- is nuts. But I think it's a reward for the kids and the coaches and the fans. Going back to Utah, I've been to eight straight bowls. They just seem to make people happy. They seem to have a good time. I don't see anything wrong with that. You can't make a playoff system robust enough to give the kids any kind of vaguely equivalent reward at the end of the season.
SI: How do you feel about Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott's leadership?
Young: I hope you quote me on this. I think he's spectacular. I think Larry is one of the most innovative, imaginative, visionary, far-sighted conference leaders around. I really appreciate his leadership enormously. I actually started working with Larry while I was still at Utah. Even then, it was clear he was going to be a real pleasure to work with. He puts the schools first. He puts the athletes first. He understands this is a presidentially driven conference. He's extremely collaborative, and he makes sure we have focused and structured discussions so that we can see the long view as well.
SI: Scott was quoted in the New York Times as saying that he would prefer a four-team playoff with semifinals played at home sites. How do you feel about that?
Young: Larry tends to do it both ways. On this particular one, he kind of gives us a heads-up of the direction he's thinking in, and his saying that this is what he thinks helps move the dialogue forward. It doesn't lock the conference in, and he knows that. He's very sensitive to that. On the other hand, we have tremendous respect for his views and his perspective. I don't think that by virtue of having speculated in the New York Times about what his views are that the conference is therefore locked into a position. But we very much appreciate Larry being part of the national dialogue on this.
SI: With all that you have to worry about running a university, how much time do you have to think about athletics?
Young: It's not an enormous amount, which is why you'd like to have a really good athletic director and why you'd like to have a really good commissioner and good staff to tee decisions up for you in a pretty efficient way. These impact the academic dimensions. I spent a lot of time thinking about how good it would be for Utah to be in the Pac-12, and I spent some time working on that issue. Because it was important not just for the athletic programs. And even not most important for the athletic programs. It was actually much more important for the academic programs to be identified with the kind of schools that are in the Pac-12. I probably spend less time thinking about it now. Things hum along pretty well. I've got a great staff, and we're positioned where we want to be. It's one of those things that pops up with some frequency. You want to make sure it fits within the overall structure and ambition and goals of the university. But it's not a moment-to-moment obsession in any sense.
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