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Huard: UW can’t afford – literally – to cut ties with Lorenzo Romar

Lorenzo Romar has a 298-196 record during his 15 seasons as UW basketball coach. (AP)

Despite ending the season on a school-worst 13-game losing streak and no postseason invites expected to be on the docket, Washington Huskies basketball coach Lorenzo Romar’s job is likely safe, said 710 ESPN Seattle’s Brock Huard.

The reason: The university can’t afford to cut him loose – literally.

“Decision time,” Huard said. “… And what I’m hearing behind the scenes, this decision can’t be made within the constraints of the budget they are facing on Montlake.”

The Huskies had a disappointing 2016-17 season, finishing with a 9-22 record despite the efforts of freshman phenom Markelle Fultz, who is expected to be a top NBA Draft pick. Not only that, this will be the team’s sixth straight season of missing the NCAA Tournament.

Following the Huskies’ season-ending loss in the Pac-12 Tournament Wednesday to USC, Romar said there was “no truth” to reports that UW has reached a decision regarding his future, and that it is now an “evaluation process” with an unknown timeline.

“I’m not the decision-maker,” he said when asked about his confidence about returning. “I know that our administration and (athletic director) Jen Cohen, they’re very supportive. I do know that, and a decision has to be made. We’ll see what happens.”

Huard, a UW alum, said the “upper campus” does not like the look letting go of Romar would present, and budget constraints force their hand further.

“In a dirty business – and college basketball is a dirty business – the guy has kept his nose clean for 15 years and the players actually love him,” he said.

Romar is in the midst of a 10-year contract that expires in 2020. Huard said he is hearing from donors that it would cost upwards of $5 million to pay off Romar and his staff.

The Seattle Times reported last June that rising costs for investing in student-athletes, along with declining attendance at Husky Stadium for football games, led to a projected deficit of $14.8 million for the UW athletic department in the 2015-16 fiscal-year budget. That was the school’s second straight year of projecting a deficit in athletics.

“No matter what Jen Cohen would like to do, the decision is likely out of her hands,” Huard said.

Fellow 710 ESPN Seattle host Dave Grosby, who is an unwavering Romar fan who would prefer he get a lifetime contract, counters that his sources say a school booster will buy out Romar’s deal.

To pour salt in the wounds, co-host Mike Salk lamented the report that Pac 12 commissioner Larry Scott signed an extension that would keep him in charge of the conference until 2022.

“Thereby assuring we will never, ever see the Huskies on DirecTV here in Seattle,” Salk said.

Money matters aside, it may be in UW’s best interest to give Romar another year. Although Fultz will almost assuredly declare for the NBA Draft, Romar’s 2017-18 recruiting class is considered one of the top in the country, headlined by 6-foot-10 forward Michael Porter Jr., who is playing at Nathan Hale High School and could be a lottery pick in the 2018 draft. There has been speculation that Porter might de-commit from UW if Romar is not the coach, as well.

Huard called 2017 one of the worst seasons in school history and that the “only saving grace is they didn’t quit.”