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Budget decisions come into focus at WSU


COUGARS

After a month of doing no typing – or very little – we get hit with a story on our first day back. WSU's athletic department put out a short release today concerning budget cuts made to close a revenue shortfall that was close to a million bucks. We talked with athletic director Jim Sterk this afternoon and put together a story, the unedited version of which you can read on the link.
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• Here's the story. As you read this, bear in mind that, though the fiscal year started last week, the numbers are still not finalized. The department still doesn't know how much money it will carry over from last year (though Sterk knows it will be something), it's not sure exactly how much they'll be spending in increased tuition costs, there's still fund-raising going on, ticket sales could get better with a decent start to the football season (or drop if the opposite occurs), all of which, an more, can affect the budget. The bottom line is, this year at least, there will be no sports cut, no huge layoffs, no major changes. ... By the way, the Seattle Times had a budget story today, though it's about some other aspects of budgeting. ... Anyhow, here is our story for tomorrow ...

PULLMAN – The economic tsunami that swamped Washington state's academic institutions, resulting in budget deficits and tuition increases, will have an impact on Washington State University athletics.

But probably not as big of one as originally feared.

"It's a little bit better than what I had thought," said WSU athletic director Jim Sterk on Thursday, when the athletic department announced a group of budget cuts for the 2009-10 fiscal year that started July 1. "However, some revenues are down, the annual fund, ticket renewals. ... Those are things we knew were going to be down, we just had hoped they would stay strong, and they have for the most part."

Still, Washington State is trying to cover a revenue shortfall of around $1 million, a number still not completely defined despite the onset of a new fiscal year.

"I hate to be evasive and I apologize," Sterk said when pressed for concrete budget numbers, "but you could safely say, as we looked at our budget last year and then this upcoming year, we were looking at probably over a million dollars.

"It's going to be a work in progress. Going into our budgets we have a lot of unknowns."

Much of those revolve around the economy and how it will affect the school's athletic revenue streams.

"We are kind of in uncharted territory," Sterk said.

The nationwide downturn has already been felt. Part of the department's shortfall comes from a $350,000 decrease in support from university in the form of tuition waivers. Another aspect is a university-wide tuition increase of 14 percent. Add in an estimated $400,000 decrease in athletic scholarship fund donations and a conservative budget for football ticket sales – season ticket orders are at 11,000, down about 1,700 from this point last year when 13,232 were ultimately sold – and the department has a hole to fill.

The athletic department, according to Sterk, had already instituted cost-cutting measures – "We've got a hit list about a page long of things we've done," he said – and those will continue. They include leaving open positions unfilled, cutting back on travel for international recruiting and professional development, using ground transportation to competitions within 400 miles of Pullman (including Seattle football games), limiting the number of athletic publications and possibly cutting travel-squad sizes.

But the school, with the Pac-10's smallest budget of around $30 million, will continue to offer seven sports for men and 10 for women, is avoiding the elimination of programs, something other conference schools, including the University of Washington, had to implement this year.

And the positions left unfilled are not coaches or employees who work directly with athletes.

"It's not like we are stopping operations," Sterk said, before using the training staff as an example. "We had two people on temporary appointments and they're going to full-time. And then we're hiring three more. That's an area we can't back away from and we can't short."

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• That's it for now. We'll have more for you tomorrow. Until then ...




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Vince Grippi
Vince Grippi is a freelance local sports blogger for spokesman.com. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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