Jennifer Cohen: Journey to Washington Huskies athletic director position

Two days before the Washington Huskies’ scheduled football opener on Sept. 5, Jennifer Cohen strolled through the university’s athletic complex, with peaceful Lake Washington looming like an oil painting in the background. As she wound by the basketball arena, past the football stadium and down to the docks where champion rowers once climbed into their boats, she was, more or less, alone. Instead of bat cracks, blown whistles and shouting coaches, an eerie silence hung heavy in the air. Instead of teams preparing for fall seasons, the fields sat empty; in some cases, grass was overgrown and benches were covered in bird droppings.

For Cohen and other athletic directors throughout college sports, the past six months have unfolded like an unending crisis management exercise. It’s not just the pandemic. It’s the seasons that were shut down last spring, the classes canceled, the campuses cleared, the testing protocols established, the plans that required careful consideration for a safe return. It’s the police brutality that shook not only her athletes but her staff, the protests and demonstrations that continued nearby in downtown Seattle. It’s the mental wellbeing of everyone she knows. It’s the ongoing debate about amateurism and compensating college athletes. It’s the staff she had to furlough, the budgets she was forced to cut and the opener—against mighty, revenue-generating Michigan—that UW will not play this season.

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