Dominique Shepard | The Daily Evergreen
The WSU Board of Regents will decide on a proposed budget designed to address the over $60 million deficit facing the athletic department at a meeting in Woodinville on Friday.
The group will also take action on three addition agenda items, including the budget and financing plan for a new human resources and budget system and a statement of commitment to the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine.
The new budget plan released by WSU Athletics last week counts on student fees doubling by fiscal year 2022 to help address the more than $60 million deficit facing the department.
The plan said the department will erase the annual debt by fiscal year 2023 but the cumulative deficit will reach $84.9 million by then. The plan also said the department will have a surplus of $200,000 at the end of that fiscal year.
Regent Lura Powell said the board sees the importance of managing the deficit.
“We’re very concerned about it,” Powell said. “This is definitely something that’s on our radar screen and we, along with President Schulz and the university administration, firmly believe it needs to be addressed as soon as it possibly can.”
She also said the issue of the athletics budget has been discussed by the board the previous few years.
“There has been [discussion] in the past obviously because this has been an ongoing issue,” Powell said. “Right away, President Schulz dove in even when he hadn’t been here more than a couple months.”
Powell also said she has seen some of Schulz’s budget plans be successful already.
While the athletics budget was listed as an agenda item at the May Regents meeting, the group did not discuss the issue in-depth.
“It was mentioned that [the budget] was going to be put together,” she said. “We had a briefing on the fact of the new legislation that was passed, that we were going to have to act specifically on the athletics budget.”
Powell did not wish to comment on specific details listed in the proposed budget as she wanted to hear the briefing on the issue at the meeting in order to more deeply understand the items listed in the documents.
Joan King, WSU’s chief university budget officer, said after athletics achieves a balanced budget, they plan on building their reserves and repaying the university’s central reserves.
In the plan athletics will present to the Board of Regents, the department highlights four principles to “building a fiscally sound athletics program.” The first principle states, “the WSU community must solve the challenges.”
King said the department plans on implementing a mandatory student fee with approval from ASWSU. However, she said there is not currently a plan for how much the fee would charge each student.
“We are anticipating that we will work with our students to implement a new fee that has not been determined of course,” she said. “Of course, we will have to work with our students before that could be implemented.”
The ASWSU Senate would have to pass a resolution to put the fee to a student vote. In February, the ASWSU Senate struck down a proposal by Athletics to put a referendum on the ballot to make the $265 student sports pass mandatory.
“We are not here to make excuses,” Director of Athletics Pat Chun said in a news release. “We are here to move forward, take fiscal responsibility and provide a world-class student-athlete experience.”
The plan relies on increasing revenue by 27 percent by fiscal year 2023 “while continuing to contain expenses,” according to a WSU news release. However, Chun did not name a specific area the department would look at to decrease expenditures.
In addition to ticket sales rising, Chun said during a news conference, the department plans on increasing fundraising donations.
“My personal belief is that fundraising is going to be our biggest opportunity,” he said. “We’ve had significant increases in our Cougar Athletic Fund.”
Chun also said the athletics has looked at sponsors to address their budget woes.
“We’re looking at corporate sponsorship from a different lens right now,” he said. “We’ve been engaged with some companies with some significant deals.”
The plan also accounts for no increase in spending on food or facilities upkeep, with only small rises accounted for in recruiting, equipment, medical and insurance costs, marketing and travel. The department also did not project any future severance pay.
Athletics estimates ticket sales rising to $11.5 million by 2023, up $3 million from the estimated 2018 total. Sales rose by about $900,000 from 2015-2017.
Chun said the department will look to a rise in attendance at men’s and women’s basketball.
“We have significant opportunity in both men’s basketball and women’s basketball,” he said.
Chun also said they project the football team to remain competitive and continue to fill Martin Stadium to 90-95 percent of capacity.
In order to comply with state law prohibiting public universities from reporting a deficit in any department, various departments will transfer money to athletics by the end of the fiscal year, including over $44 million from Housing and Dining. However, King said the money will go back to those groups at the beginning of the next fiscal year.
The department also plans on a $3.2 million rise in coaches’ compensation in the next five fiscal years, as well as a $1.2 million hike in athletic administrator compensation.
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