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Sunday, January 28, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Blaine Newnham

Football, men's basketball foot the bill for others

Special to The Seattle Times

I hear the complaints about college athletics.

About the greed that keeps bowl games alive and a national playoff on hold.

About the abuse of football and basketball players by the colleges, about how they ought to be paid for their time and talents.

About how education is an afterthought when colleges are shamelessly hiring million-dollar coaches.

What we forget is that college athletics is given a mandate without money, to field teams of happy men and women playing golf, rowing shells and bouncing and throwing balls with little taxpayer support to pay for it.

I did a little checking this week to find out, for example, just how much the University of Washington spends on its women's basketball team.

If you want to know where the money went, why UW charges $60 for a ticket to football games at Husky Stadium, or why they pay coach Tyrone Willingham more than $1.5 million a year to resurrect the football program, look no further then women's basketball, or even volleyball. Or baseball or softball or just about any sport -- men' or women's -- at the university.

Last season, the women's basketball team lost nearly $1 million. The volleyball team, even in a season in which it won the NCAA championship, lost $800,000.

The men's and women's rowing programs each lose $600,000 per year, according to athletic director Todd Turner, even though both receive ample alumni support.

"If we were a stand-alone athletic department and offered only football and men's basketball, we'd be fine," said Turner. "But that's not our mission."

The mission is to involve more than 600 athletes in 23 sports and to treat them pretty much the same in spite of the sex of the athletes or the return on the dollar.

Colleges don't pay football players because they can't afford to. They also don't do it because the law demands they'd have to pay an equal number of women athletes if they did.

Unlike a different time, when the women played locally and rode buses to get there, the two basketball teams at Washington are treated pretty much the same, although Lorenzo Romar makes more than three times as much as June Daugherty, the women's coach.

That said, Daugherty still makes $300,000 a year with incentives, a number dictated by the market for women's coaches.

Romar gets a million bucks each season, but the success of his program has not only justified his salary, but helped the department survive during a period when the football team isn't doing well.

The men's basketball team realized a profit of $3.5 million last year, according to Turner.

Women's basketball has a following, but ticket sales last season produced only $288,000, compared to more than $3 million for the men. As far as additional revenues, FSN television has shown little interest in paying to televise women's games, or anything besides men's basketball and football.

Turner understands and appreciates the mission. And while he expects most of his teams will operate at a deficit, he thinks women's basketball has the potential to do better.

Daugherty is in her 11th season at Washington. She has taken teams to five NCAA tournaments in 10 seasons and could well do it again this year.

But the big buzz that helped some of Chris Gobrecht's teams in the early '90s outdraw the men's team is missing.

Perhaps some of the interest transferred to the WNBA. Perhaps the novelty is gone. Perhaps the Huskies haven't been able to get deep enough into the NCAA tournament.

"I have a lot of admiration and respect for what June Daugherty has done," said Turner. "No one wants us to succeed more than she does."

Daugherty has recruited what experts say is the eighth-best class among next season's incoming players.

"Our expectations are high," said Turner. "We have given women's basketball the resources to be successful."

Turner measures success as external excitement about the team and an internal satisfaction among the players.

Apparently only a couple of schools in the country make money playing women's basketball. Turner would simply like the losses to be less, like maybe $300,000 a year instead of $1 million.

"The potential is there," he said.

I have always believed that having men and women compete in sports across the board was the ultimate justification for colleges being in the big-time football business, for paying a coach almost $2 million a year.

Should the women's basketball coach face the same scrutiny and pressure as the football coach? Obviously not.

But the coaches and athletes of money-losing sports can't be oblivious to the pressures they put on football and men's basketball.

Greed is simply not the issue in college athletics. Survival is.

Comments for Blaine Newnham: sports@seattletimes.com.

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