Coach's Corner

This spring saw a revival in the number of walk-ons joining the Husky football team. There were close to 43 student-athletes who simply wanted to play for the Huskies, even if they had to pay their own way.

That was tremendous but it won't last through fall.

This coming season Washington will be asked to cut their team back to a maximum of 110 or 115 players.

Before the restrictions on the number of male athletes came about, the walk-ons often numbered over 60 or more players. The national championship era saw the total roster reach 150+. Since then, however, the mandates of Title-Nine now required colleges to deny non-scholarship males the right to even turn out for the team. This is sad from the educational standpoint.

First off, let me say that there is no question that the intent and overall results of Title-Nine are positive and socially correct. More and more girls and young women are involved in sports than at any other time in our nation's history. That is terrific.

However, if you view sports as part of the educational process, as I do, then the denial of the right to participation is akin to the denial to attend any English, math, or science class. Currently, Washington, like many other schools, chooses to put a limit on its football team in order to reach a gender balance. Title-nine requires that the number of participants in all sports needs to reflect the percentages of male-female students at that particular school. Instead of just saying make things equal in terms of number of scholarships, teams, and funding, the developers of Title-IX came up with a formula that mandates equality in participation.

Now this may be a good thing, but unlike basketball, track, tennis, golf, baseball, and every other sport, there simply is no comparable sport like football for women. Consequently, putting football into the equation misconstrues the balancing percentages.

Let's call it what it is. Even though it is also an amateur sport, division one football is a big business.

It is also the major revenue producer for almost, if not every, athletic department in the country at those schools that field football teams. Since that is the case, should football receive some special consideration with regard to scholarship numbers applied against the equation?

That is the $64,000 question. You know what my answer is, I'm an ex-football coach.

College football, come fall, is a vibrant part of the American culture. It is in the entertainment industry. It also happens to be a sport played mostly by men.

The history of the walk-on program runs deep in Husky Football. In fact the movie, RUDY, showed that the walk-on player is well respected throughout the country. They are the darlings of college football and the "12th man" concept takes its roots in the concept of a walk-on whose major goal in life is to be part of the team.

When the sanctions of the early 90's penalized the Husky football program, it was the walk-ons who kept the Huskies winning. Players like John Fiala, Jerome Pathon and Dane Looker all entered the UW through the walk-on program. All three are still playing at the NFL level. On the 1998 team the MVP on offense was Looker, a walk-on wide receiver; the MVP on defense was Todd Johnson, a walk-on linebacker; and the team MVP was Joe Jarzynka, also a walk-on. Ben Mahdavi is the latest of this long line of walk-ons who went on to success at this university.

The list goes on and on but as the door of opportunity slowly closes the list will get smaller and smaller. That is why it was so refreshing to see this recent surge in kids who get to play because they simply love the game. Most will be cut come fall when the team is first restricted by the NCAA to 105 for training camp then to 115 for the season by the university itself.

That is a shame to me.

The results of decades of Title-Nine, while extremely positive for women, have been disastrous for some schools. Hundreds of programs for men throughout the country have been cut in order to meet this federal mandate. Most often cut have been wrestling and gymnastics, but some of the other individual men sports have been axed as well.

Recently, a local university, Pacific Lutheran, dropped its wrestling program, reducing the number of college wrestling teams in the entire state of Washington to just one.

Sports like football are not usually eliminated, but rather reduced in their total number of participants.

For schools like Washington, this is ridiculous because football is the Golden Goose. It basically pays for all the other sports besides it's covering it's own expenses. Even the very successful Husky Women's basketball team is subsidized by football. The extremely successful and national power Husky Softball team is certainly funded by football, as are all expenses of the entire athletic department, including the salaries of every coach and administrator and support personnel (150-200 total employees).

I'm positive that the spirit of Title IX wasn't designed to decrease the male sport participation, but rather to increase women's athletics. Unfortunately most schools chose to do both.

Is there an alternative? Can they realize that football is unique to the equation?

My suggestion would be to increase the number of women participants by adding junior varsity programs in some of the more popular women sports. Examples would be softball and soccer. It isn't hard to imagine that 60-100 women turning out for these sports in a JV format, if given the opportunity. They could play against local JC and small college teams and would make those programs even stronger.

Of course you would incur added expenses but you would be adding opportunities, rather than eliminating them.

How about adding sports like bowling, skiing, and fencing for women? That would provide more chances for women without reducing opportunities for their male counterparts.

These types of programs are why Stanford wins the all-sports "Sears Trophy" every year. Adding a drill team with 40-50 members would likewise be a low expense/high numbers move. Every high school in America has a drill team. Washington had one in the mid 1980s but where did it go?

One other note I want to make. I don't understand why football supports many of the band expenses, yet those numbers are not included in the financial aid equation.

Football is quite unique in that there are rarely cuts at any level of the game. Most football coaches feel kids will weed themselves out and the rigors of the sport will weed out the rest. The denial to walk-ons to test themselves, to become a member of the team, to sacrifice for that team, to learn about themselves through that team, and otherwise make a significant contribution to that team, is unfair and discriminatory. If you pay for the right to go to the college, you should have the right to try out for the band, the thespian plays, the dance troupe, and even the football team.

The sport of football, as well as any other sport, is not extra-curricular. It really is rather intercurricular. It can be just as valuable in terms of a learning experience as any classroom curriculum. There is no other class at any level of education which features the degrees of emotional, psychological, and sociological investment by the participants or students.

Most critics of the sport won't understand or agree with this, but there is little doubt with this educator that sports represent one of the greatest corporate learning experiences any young person can ever go through.

Looking outside the classroom for a second, how do walk-ons help the sport of football? The numbers are most effective in fielding adequate "scout" teams. When practices divide into the offensive and defensive preparation periods, there are almost always teams composed entirely of "scouts" who learn and run the opponent's plays and formations. The more repetitions against these plays usually means more recognition and quicker reactions come game day. In preparing your first two strings each week, it really helps to have at least two full scout teams of players. This means 22-25 offensive players running plays against 22-25 defensive scouts and 22-25 defensive players running defenses against 22-25 offensive scouts. This alone adds up to close to 100 kids. Add to that the injury rate of 10% missing practice plus 8-10 kicking specialists and we're close to 125 already. This number was very common at many division-one football programs. There are usually extra linemen, extra wide-receivers and extra-scout team quarterbacks who often brought the total to 130-140 Nebraska has had 240-260 at different times throughout their history.

Preparation is limited by NCAA rules to 20 hours per week, including the game. Because there is so little time to prepare, it is much easier when you have walk-ons. Even in drills the starting players can get in more reps if they have enough scouts to run against. As little as ten years ago, the Huskies enjoyed the benefit of extra walk-ons and could have two full offensive scout teams running rapid-fire plays vs. the top two defenses. After four days of practice the defenders had seen the equivalent of five full games worth of plays, including every trick and unusual formation to expect.

The last four years the defenses have only got to see two-to-three full games worth of plays. This is almost entirely due to the restrictions placed upon the walk-on program.

It doesn't do any good to call for immediate change because that is not going happen. As the father of daughters, I am proud that my girls had the opportunity to play sports. But it still doesn't make it right that some young men were denied the same opportunity. To lose a men's team is one thing, but to lose a whole sport such as wrestling in this state is really a sad testimony to our good intentions for equality. I repeat, I don't believe this was the spirit of Title IX when it was written.

Some of the all time walk-ons to play for Washington have been kickers and punters such as Jeff Jaeger and Chuck Nelson. Hugh Millen, who led the Huskies to an Orange Bowl win and later played for over a decade in the NFL, actually entered Washington as a walk-on. Today's team could not function nearly as well if it weren't for walk-on linemen like Mike Thompson, Todd Jensen, Jason Simonson, Stephan Jackson, Justin Booker, and T.J. Orthmeyer. You're probably asking, "Who are these guys?" These are just some of the offensive linemen who are just as important as any starter and are thrilled to simply call themselves a "Husky". It's a real shame that kids like this will be losing this opportunity in the future. Some walk-ons like Owen Biddle, Eric Roy, B.J. Newberry, and Ben Warren are currently in the depth and will be making significant contributions come fall.

Right now the starting kicker is Evan Knudson. Another walk-on. With the 110 limit and therefore only opportunities for 25 total walk-ons, the program will take a hit. To all the walk-ons whoever played for the Huskies, this is a shame. columnist and KJR 950 Sports Radio personality, Dick Baird.
Dick Baird was an Assistant Coach (Linebackers) and Recruiting Coordinator at the UW from 1985-1998. He has joined the staff as a featured columnist for both the web site and Sports Washington magazine. In addition to his regular editorial columns, Coach Baird will try to provide some of his unique perspective by answering a few of your selected questions online. If you would like to send in your questions, please CLICK HERE.

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