On Washington men's basketball, Mike Hopkins and the finances at play
Hopkins is coming back for another season. His contract made that nearly inevitable.
SEATTLE — It was plenty fair to believe, back in March 2017, that Washington’s most prudent course of action with regard to its men’s basketball program was to move on from longtime coach Lorenzo Romar.
The Huskies had finished that season with a 2-16 conference record. The year prior, their starting lineup featured the Pac-12’s leading scorer and a pair of first-round NBA Draft picks … and they landed in the NIT. The Huskies hadn’t made the NCAA tournament since 2011.
Yet there were two reasons why Romar’s ouster would not be a foregone conclusion.
1. He had just signed one of the best recruiting classes in school history, highlighted by five-star phenom Michael Porter Jr., the kind of player who could reverse a program’s fortunes overnight.
2. Romar’s buyout — $3.2 million, fully guaranteed — would be a lot for the athletic department to swallow.
Of course, newly hired AD Jen Cohen did eventually decide to fire Romar after 15 seasons, eating the buyout in favor of seeking a new direction for a foundering program. Even that amount of money, though, gave some in the department pause, and it was in part thanks to the football program’s performance (and the financial commitment of its biggest supporters) that she was able to write that buyout check without sending the budget into the red.
I’ll try not to bore you too much with the wonky financial details, but the gist is that ticketholders in the Don James Center — the premium seating section on Husky Stadium’s north side — pay for their seats for a five-year period, and have two fiscal years to make their payments. It happened that about $1.5 million of Don James Center renewal money came in earlier than expected, Cohen told me back then, and that helped the department absorb Romar’s buyout without significant big-picture ramifications. That doesn’t mean she wouldn’t have made the same decision without those dollars, but the fact that it was even noteworthy tells you that the buyout was at least a consideration.
You probably know where I’m going with this.