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Washington State athletic department projects $67 million hole, will discuss plans to reduce debt at Board of Regents meeting

UPDATED: Fri., April 27, 2018, 8:46 p.m.

Patrick Chun, left, WSU’s athletic director, fields questions with university president Kirk Schulz during an introductory press conference for Chun on Jan. 23 in  Pullman. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Patrick Chun, left, WSU’s athletic director, fields questions with university president Kirk Schulz during an introductory press conference for Chun on Jan. 23 in Pullman. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

PULLMAN – Washington State anticipates its multiyear athletics debt will reach $67 million by the end of the 2018 fiscal year, a school spokesperson confirmed to The Spokesman-Review Friday, and the school’s board of regents will convene next week to formulate a plan to reduce the operating deficit.

According to the agenda for Thursday’s board of regents meeting at the WSU Health Sciences building in Spokane, the committee will also discuss a bill passed by the Washington Legislature mandating increased transparency and accountability when it comes to athletics budgets.

Another clause in the bill, which was signed in March by Gov. Jay Inslee, states that Washington’s public colleges and universities must approve annual budgets for intercollegiate athletics “in advance of any expenditure for that fiscal year.”

Additionally, the institutions are now required to conspicuously post financial statements and plans on their websites.

WSU posted operating deficits in each of the last six years, totaling $51.5 million, as reported by USA Today. In 2016, school President Kirk Schulz and former athletic director Bill Moos formed a plan to help the school become solvent by the year 2020, but the single-year deficit in 2018 projects to be well more than the $4.9 million anticipated by Schulz and Moos. The president and former A.D. projected WSU to run a $900,000 deficit in fiscal year 2019 and finally get back into the black by 2020, when Schulz and Moos forecast a $300,000 surplus.

According to the Seattle Times, WSU estimated a $10.6 million deficit for fiscal year 2017. In 2016, the deficit was $12.9 million, in 2015 it reached $13.2 million and in 2014 it hit $13.7 million.

Excessive spending in athletics can largely be traced to Moos’ goal to keep WSU relevant in the Pac-12’s facilities race. The school spent $61 million on its new football operations building, which was completed in 2014, and WSU’s earnings from a television deal with the Pac-12 Networks fell short of initial projections, adding to the debt. WSU still hopes to construct an indoor practice facility for its football team as well as a baseball clubhouse, but the school has stated it plans to lean on private donations and gifts to subsidize both of those projects.

WSU’s athletics debt has skyrocketed at a time the university is dealing with sweeping budget cuts. In October, Schulz laid out a plan and instructed each department at all five of WSU’s campuses to reduce spending by 2.5 percent in fiscal year 2018. Schulz hopes WSU can cut $10 million from an estimated $30 million in annual deficit spending.

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