'We're confident in the strength of the Pac-12': Q-and-A with Washington AD Jen Cohen
A conversation about the present and future of UW athletics and the Pac-12.
Exactly one year ago, USC and UCLA stunned the college football world by announcing their intent to leave the Pac-12 for the Big Ten in 2024.
The fallout from that news has introduced at least some degree of uncertainty on the remaining Pac-12 campuses. As the calendar turns to July with the Pac-12 still negotiating its next media-rights deal, reports and rumors continue to suggest the conference could splinter if the annual per-school payout doesn’t come in high enough.
At the same time, the Washington Huskies used an 11-2 finish in coach Kalen DeBoer’s debut season to propel themselves into preseason top-10 consideration, and enter the 2023 season with legitimate conference-championship aspirations. A pair of 1,000-yard receivers return to an offense helmed by senior quarterback Michael Penix Jr., who is now widely considered a potential Heisman Trophy candidate.
UW athletic director Jen Cohen has largely remained out of the media spotlight since the USC-UCLA news broke, but I caught up with her on Friday afternoon. Our conversation covered the state of UW’s athletic department, the future of the Pac-12, her confidence level in the league securing its next media-rights deal, her communication with UW president Ana Mari Cauce, the streaming vs. linear debate, the AD opening at USC, nonconference scheduling and other updates within the department.
Questions and responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Could you give a brief ‘state of the department’ update? How do you feel about the direction Washington athletics is headed, particularly through the lens of football?
We had an outstanding year across the board. From a sports performance standpoint — the 11-2 season, that really set the tone for a great year for the majority of our sports. We just finished 21st in the Directors’ Cup, which indicates the holistic success we had. We had a lot of highlights along the way, whether that was seeing women’s basketball grow and develop under Coach (Tina) Langley and get to the championships of the WNIT, to finishing the year with the softball run that we had, or seeing a sport like track and field shine under the leadership of the Powells.
Academically, I just saw numbers from this quarter — our GPA as a student-athlete student body is just under a 3.4. Our graduation rates continue to shine and set the national standard around how we continue to support our student-athletes, not just competitively, but academically, holistically, from a leadership standpoint.
Really pleased with the progress being made around NIL, and the opportunities being presented for our student athletes. Solid donor support, university support, fan support. Great year overall.
How do you feel about where the Pac-12 is positioned nationally right now, especially as it continues to negotiate the next TV contract? I’m wondering if you feel the Pac-12 is still viable long-term.