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WSU athletics posts $13 million deficit; solvency ‘a moving target’

WSU athletic director Bill Moos, in the school's new football operations building, is facing a $13 million deficit, but says the current budget plan has the Pac-12 program solvent by 2019. (Tyler Tjomsland)
WSU athletic director Bill Moos, in the school's new football operations building, is facing a $13 million deficit, but says the current budget plan has the Pac-12 program solvent by 2019. (Tyler Tjomsland)

PULLMAN _ Washington State University’s athletic department will run a deficit of more than $13 million for the second year in a row.

The shortfall is due in part to mandates by the Pac-12 and NCAA and lower-than-projected television revenues, Athletic Director Bill Moos said.

The result: solvency for WSU’s athletic department is “a moving target,” Moos said. Last year, when WSU reported a $13.7 million deficit for fiscal year 2014, Moos said he hoped the department could balance its expenses and revenue by 2019.

For fiscal year 2015, WSU’s athletic department spent $67.3 million, a decrease from the $68.1 million spent in 2014. But overall revenues fell to $54.1 million from $54.4 million, creating a $13.2 million deficit.

The gap between revenues and expenses is effectively a loan the department takes from the university. Moos said it will be up to the new university president to decide when and how the athletics department will pay back the school.

WSU is conducting a nationwide search for a new president after former President Elson Floyd died in June. Daniel Bernardo is the interim president.

While Moos is optimistic that the Cougars eventually will break even, their recurring athletic deficit illustrates the difficulty the isolated school faces trying to compete athletically with its better-financed peers. The Cougars still rank near the bottom of all Power Five conference schools in both expenditures and revenues.

Moos blamed the size of the 2015 deficit in part on the Pac-12’s decision to fully fund the cost of attendance for student athletes, which costs WSU an additional $820,000 per year, and on the NCAA’s deregulation of student meals, such as allowing non-scholarship athletes to eat at the school’s expense.

The Cougars have invested heavily in nutrition during Moos’ tenure and now employ two full-time chefs. The Cougars also have added nutrition and custodial staff to the new football operations building, accounting for an increase of about $1.3 million in salaries, benefits and bonuses.

“This isn’t a lavish program that is throwing money out the window and so forth,” Moos said. “I think we’ve made the moves that needed to be made and continue to need to be made to become competitive and stay competitive once we have gotten there.”

WSU is paying debt service for recent construction projects, such as the $61 million football operations building. Moos said those projects were a priority, in order to both strengthen the football program and take advantage of favorable construction conditions. Future construction, however, will have to be entirely financed through donations, he said.

Donations were down slightly in 2015, with the Cougars receiving $6.6 million in contributions compared to $7 million in 2014, a decrease that Moos attributed to the Apple Cup being held in Seattle. Having the Apple Cup in Pullman drives a spike in giving as prospective season-ticket holders make donations to the Cougar Athletic Fund to secure tickets.

But the Cougar Athletic Fund has more than 7,000 members for the first time, and Moos is optimistic that the school might set a record in football season ticket sales for the upcoming season.

“What we need to do is work on changing our culture to where it doesn’t matter if we have an Apple Cup or not, we’re going to sell a lot of season tickets every year,” Moos said.

The budget for coaching salaries increased by $521,318 in 2015, and will rise in 2016 by at least $575,000 thanks to recent raises given to the football coaching staff.

Moos said the athletic department is exploring new revenue streams, including the possibility of selling naming rights to Martin Stadium or Beasley Coliseum, with some reluctance due to his desire to preserve tradition.

“I wouldn’t say no, but the money would have to be right,” Moos said.

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