He was a boy from Elgin in northeast Iowa, and his grandfather took him to a 1985 football game in Kinnick Stadium in which No. 1 Iowa defeated No. 2 Michigan.
That hooked him on college athletics in general and the Hawkeyes in particular.
He was a student-manager on the Iowa men’s basketball team from 1996 to 1999, with his last season the last time the Hawkeyes reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.
That hooked him on a career in college athletics.
Today at 42, Jason Butikofer is the new chief operating officer for the University of Washington’s athletics department. It’s one heck of a time to change jobs, and it’s one heck of a time to do it in college athletics.
“The only certainty now is uncertainty,” said Butikofer from Seattle. “Everything kind of changes on a daily basis.”
One of his roles in the job he took in late March: “Serving on the Pac-12’s football COVID-19 committee.”
“We’re prepping internally for a lot of different scenarios. There are glimmers of hope, but we could see a very different scenario in the fall. The best-case scenario is a significant recession.”
From a football standpoint, Butikofer said he’ll try to help Washington navigate “the new normal, human behavior, how we adapt to the stadium experience and safely accommodate fans.”
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Butikofer earned a degree in sport, health, leisure and physical studies at Iowa. Being a Hawkeyes basketball manager, however, was his education.
“It was a unique experience for an 18-to-21-year-old kid from Elgin, Iowa,” Butikofer said. “Being a manager for Coach (Tom) Davis, I learned a lot about how to treat people and how to build relationships. The amount of care he showed everybody is something I carry with me today.
“I try to continually improve my career with the elements I got from the foundation of that program.”
Butikofer worked for seven years in Arizona State’s athletics department, was at Minnesota for three years, spent four years at Army West Point as an associate athletics director, was Southern Utah’s athletics director for almost two years, and was deputy athletics director at Purdue from 2017 until this spring.
He oversaw football and men’s basketball at Purdue. One of the last Purdue events he attended was the Boilermakers’ 77-68 men’s basketball win at Iowa on March 3, the Hawkeyes’ only Big Ten home loss of the season.
“Mixed feelings,” Butikofer said about that night. “I’m a Hawkeye at heart.”
Now he’s a Husky. He drove from Indiana to Seattle over five days, with his 14-year-old dog as a traveling companion.
“My mom thought it was an interesting time to move across the country,” he said, with the word “interesting” probably meaning something else.
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For now, Butikofer is living in an apartment in a 41-story building in which people are trying to avoid each other. He’s in what normally is a vibrant city, where he looks down on the street and sees little happening.
“Every morning I walk to a Shell station three blocks away,” he said. “There’s a homeless guy out front who basically lives there. I’ve developed a relationship with him, somebody I can talk to in person.”
Butikofer said he’s had “social-distancing time” with Washington Athletics Director Jennifer Cohen, but works from his apartment.
“I can’t go to campus,” he said. He has spent Zoom time with Huskies football coach Jimmy Lake and men’s basketball coach Mike Hopkins, “working with them to navigate these challenges.”
For leaders, this is a time to truly lead.
“I grew up in Elgin, Iowa, a town of 600 people,” Butikofer said. “I’ve lived in Phoenix and Minneapolis. I worked at a military academy for four years. I’ve been at Southern Utah, a state school, but culturally with a Mormon influence that’s extremely strong, and I immersed myself in the Mormon culture. I’ve been at three Big Ten stops.
“Through my experiences came personal growth. I would say resiliency and adaptability are my experiences at this point.”
Resiliency and adaptability. If you’re running a business or running for office in 2020 and back up your claim to have those traits, you go to the front of the line.