Make your voice heard, keep your money
By Jim Caple
Page 2 columnist

What do you do when your alma mater becomes an embarrassment?

I'm not talking about losing a lot of games. Lord knows, every school endures bad seasons. Oklahoma, USC, Notre Dame, Nebraska, Penn State -- they've all recently seen what life is like from the underbelly of the college polls. Losing is just part of sport. When your team is so bad it can't even spell BCS, you simply suck it up, keep rooting and hope things turn around as soon as possible.

What I'm talking about is when your school behaves so badly off the field that it becomes a national punchline. I'm talking about when your school has so many scandals, its mere mention produces more snickers than your freshman collection of Men At Work and Pat Benatar albums. I'm talking about when your school is being investigated so often that the NCAA takes out a mortgage on a house across from the athletic department.

Rick Neuheisel
Rick Neuheisel was the center of controversy while at the University of Washington.
Anyone who attended a Division I school endures this at some point, except perhaps for those sanctimonious bastards at Duke who pretend their dirty laundry doesn't stink. The rest of us just have to grin and bear it and silently wait for the day they catch Coach K with the dollar bills in his hand at Arety's Strip Club.

I'm going through this right now with my alma mater, Washington, which has spent the better part of the past decade spitting on the ethical sidewalk. Jacko's Friday night slumber parties at Neverland had more institutional control than the Husky athletic department currently does.

The Internet may be infinite, but even it doesn't provide ample space to document the Huskies' offenses. They run from gambling (Rick Neuheisel), to recruiting violations, to lying (Neuheisel again), to a doctor illegally providing the softball team with drugs, to lawsuits (Neuheisel, who else?), to questionable use of a charter plane (Neuheisel's replacement, Keith Gilbertson). But you can sum them all up with one word: Arrogance. Even when they're caught red-handed, the guilty insist they did nothing wrong.

Heck, for plunging the department to Defcon 4, athletic director Barbara Hedges was just rewarded with a contract extension.

The school's only other response to all this turmoil has been to hook up an IV to the alumni and fans and bleed them dry. Awhile back, the UW tacked a $50 fee onto all football season tickets for a so-called Student Athlete Fund. The fee was supposed to run for five years; but after the five years ran out, the school made the $50 charge permanent. At the same time, the UW raised the fee for its booster club from $300 to $350.

Nothing like punishing your best and most loyal fans, is there?

It was to the point where I was rooting for Washington State in last Saturday's Apple Cup, figuring it would take a loss to the hated state rival to force the Huskies to mend their ways. Instead, Washington upset the Cougars, preserving a 27-year non-losing-season streak and keeping alive the possibility of a bowl bid.

Keith Gilbertson & players
UW coach Keith Gilbertson and his players after receiving the Apple Cup trophy -- but should their fans be celebrating?
This non-losing-season streak is truly the most pathetic of marks. The school will go to any length to preserve the streak, scheduling such fierce non-conference opponents as Idaho, Indiana and Nevada this season. Unfortunately, the Huskies lost to Nevada, so they will have to find someone much worse and much safer for the future. Any day, I expect them to join the Big East so that they can get Rutgers on the conference schedule. In fact, should they receive an invitation, I don't think the Huskies should even go to a bowl -- a bowl game would put the precious non-losing-season streak at risk.

So, once again I ask: What is an alumnus to do when faced with such an onslaught?

There is only one adequate response, and it's simple: Stop giving the department your damn money.

If the school is too arrogant to discipline itself, the alumni must step in and say enough is enough. Cut off the source of revenue. No more donations to the booster club. No more season tickets. No more officially-licensed merchandise. No more funding for multi-million-dollar practice facilities and $12 million coaching contracts.

When a school has run out of shame, the only way it will change is when it also runs out of money.

True, the school always holds its most loyal fans hostage by removing their priority seating should they dare to drop their season tickets. But that's exactly what loyal alumni must do to get their point across. If you're embarrassed by the school's direction, do something to steer it back to the straight and narrow.

If you absolutely must support the team, buy your tickets from scalpers. It will probably save you money in the long run, and at least the cash will go to a worthier cause. Plus, you can always make a healthy donation and regain your priority seating after the department cleans itself up.

Besides, what's the point of a seat on the 40-yard-line if the view turns your stomach?

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.





ONE ASHAMED ALUM

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