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Lynn Hickey working to both chip away Eastern Washington athletic department’s debt and elevate its status

With a to-do list as thick as her Texas accent, Eastern Washington athletic director Lynn Hickey hasn’t had much time to enjoy her new region’s idyllic summer months.

She recently sold her home in San Antonio, where, for 18 years, she helped vault the University of Texas-San Antonio’s athletic program to new heights, including the addition of a built-from-scratch FBS football program in 2011.

It’s been 11 months since Hickey stepped down as UTSA’s AD citing personal reasons, and about six months since she made the trek to the Northwest, where the grass is literally greener.

EWU’s athletic budget, however, has been as dry as the old Alamo landscape, with a current deficit of more than $5 million.

Hickey has the chore of chipping away at the towering debt, all while aiming to provide adequate means for her programs and helping spearhead fundraising efforts on capital improvements.

She and her staff have been hitting the pavement this summer, shaking hands and getting face time with current and potential donors.

“We’re working on a long-term plan. We know we need to do a better job at fundraising,” Hickey said. “It’s all about building relationships.”

With an already thin budget – the second-lowest among Big Sky Conference members – cuts likely won’t help, she said.

“There’s not a whole lot more we can cut,” said Hickey, who’s hit the ground running since being elevated from interim AD in April. “I don’t see much we can really ding right now.”

In USA Today’s annual fiscal report of NCAA Division I schools published last month, EWU ranked 175th out of 230 in revenues for the 2016-2017 year. The department had $14,797,340 in total revenues and $15,753,819 in operating costs.

Just over 65 percent of EWU’s revenue ($9,763,372) came from allocated sources. Private Division I schools aren’t in the report, and there are 347 total Division I schools.

EWU ranked eighth in revenues in the report among Big Sky members and largely trailed the conference leaders – No. 110 Sac. State ($28,275,369), No. 115 North Dakota ($28,201,349) and No. 116 Montana ($27,192,240). It also lagged behind No. 127 Idaho, No. 132 Montana State, No. 147 Northern Arizona and No. 155 Northern Colorado.

EWU’ 2016-2017 revenues consisted of ticket sales ($816,157), contributions ($732,875), rights/licensing ($1,742,568), student fees ($2,256,000), school funds ($7,497,272) and the “other” ($175,368), according to the report. Eight home football games in 2016 boosted the total.

Conversely, Eastern’s spending went to its coaching staff ($5,175,106), scholarships ($4,151,635) and facilities/overhead ($153,024) and “other” ($6,274,054).

But EWU still has momentum. It has won the last three Presidents Cups, an award given to the Big Sky Conference’s top athletic and academic school. On the gridiron, the moneymaking sport, the Eagles have been a FCS playoff regular.

But because EWU didn’t qualify for the football playoffs in 2017 and bring in extra home games, the school expects lower total revenues in next year’s report.

“Right now, we’re just digging into where we’re at,” Hickey said. We’re building a five-year projection, a plan on how to close the gap.”

Revamping 50-year-old Roos Field is also on Hickey’s radar. Coming from football-crazed Texas, where even multimillion dollar high school stadiums are town gems, Hickey knows the importance of adequate facilities.

After the failure of the Gateway Project to improve the football stadium, a plan proposed in 2012, Hickey said the school is taking the early steps to work toward proposing a new-look Roos Field.

“We want a good, sound, set design before we make it public,” Hickey said.

When asked what improvements she wants to see with the current field, she said: “Fan amenities, adequate seating, restrooms and concessions, while also giving the student body a good experience.

“We want seats for revenue purposes. You want to add seats, but you don’t want to get unrealistic. The (football team) plays in there five times a year, hopefully we can get that up to six times a year.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story listed incorrect EWU 2016-2017 student fee revenues and did not list school funds.

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