The Washington State University regents unanimously approved a plan Friday to balance the school’s athletics department budget.
The regents voted after hearing presentations by WSU athletic director Pat Chun and Chief Budget Officer Joan King, who touted the budget strategy as the best possible way to climb out of a cumulative deficit that’s projected to reach more than $85 million by the end of fiscal year 2022.
“The athletics department has to thrive because of what it means to the brand of the institution,” Chun told the regents during a retreat in Woodinville.
Much of the deficit can be traced to WSU’s decision, spearheaded by former athletic director Bill Moos, to build a $61 million football complex and other facility enhancements. An economic downturn at the time also prompted the university to slash institutional support to the athletics department, and revenue from a deal with the Pac-12 Networks fell far short of initial projections.
Chun and King first outlined details of the new strategy – which is contingent on media-rights fees, record donations to the Cougar Athletic Fund, improved ticket sales, corporate sponsorships and a spike in student fees – in a conference call with reporters last week.
Before joining WSU in January, Chun was a renowned fundraiser for the athletic departments at Florida Atlantic University and Ohio State University. He and King predict WSU’s athletics program will be able to break even and begin building up reserves as early as fiscal 2023.
But at least one piece of the plan might be called wishful thinking. Two years ago, when Moos and WSU President Kirk Schulz pitched a similar strategy to prop up the athletics department, students balked at the idea of increased fees. That plan also presumed that state officials would authorize beer sales during football games in Martin Stadium, a source of revenue that did not materialize.
The student government, the Associated Students of WSU, would decide whether to put such a fee increase up to a vote of the student body. Only then, with the students’ blessing, could the regents vote to impose the increase, said Jordan Frost, a graduate student who served as student body president and was recently nominated by Gov. Jay Inslee to be WSU’s next student regent.
“The fee will still have to be put on the ballot by ASWSU and then voted by the majority of the student body, so it’s still a student-centered process which I always advocate for heavily,” Frost said in a message. “Overall it’s a very responsible budget plan that relies on some hard work for the athletic department, but I think they are up to the challenge.”