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Athletic director Bill Moos turns focus to monetary pledges when it comes to funding WSU athletics

Washington State athletic director Bill Moos, shown in this 2011 photo, has used his ample bag of tricks to fund his athletic department, drawing from his experience small-school experience (Montana) and big-school experience (Oregon). (Dean Hare / Associated Press)

PULLMAN – Here is a little insight into the current fundraising strategy for Washington State Athletics, which is not entirely unlike fraternity recruitment: It’s all about the pledges.

When Bill Moos was hired to be WSU’s athletic director seven years ago, he told late school president Elson Floyd that success would require ambitious initial investment. The football program simply had to get healthy, and to get there the Cougars needed to take on significant debt to pay for facilities upgrades.

The strategy worked. The football team has won 17 games over the last two years, and the Cougar Athletic Fund has more donors giving more money than ever before. But that spending caught up with the Cougars, who did not receive as much money from the Pac-12’s TV deals as they expected to.

The result was that toward the end of his tenure, Floyd put a moratorium on any capital spending for a 12-month period and said that once the moratorium had lifted all projects had to be paid for through a combination of pledged donations and cash on hand. No more borrowing.

For Moos, that meant a pretty significant strategic shift. The Cougars now rely largely on pledges to give recurring gifts in amounts that are easier for boosters to bear than a lump sum payment, but those gifts result in more money coming in as part of a steady stream.

The new baseball facility Moos hopes to have ready for administrative and regent approval soon, for example, is estimated to be 70- to 80-percent financed through such pledges.

“Our fundraising strategy was to have large numbers of donors,” Moos said. “Let’s immediately appeal to those who can give $25,000 now, and then see if they can also give another $25,000 over the next five years.”

That change in fundraising paradigm is hardly new news to Moos, whose career as an athletic director has included a wide range of challenges and solutions. He has run the athletic departments at Montana, Oregon and WSU and each school had drastically different needs.

Moos likes to hire coaches who have spent some time at small colleges. That’s because his first job as an athletic director came at a school with a tradition of winning, and not much else.

When Moos got to Missoula, he found that Montana’s entire athletic budget was under $6 million. That budget had to pay for athletic scholarships (nobody actually goes to school for free), coaching salaries, and everything else.

“I think I benefited from being around coaches with no egos, who had no problems sharing secretaries and everything else,” Moos said. “There were very few plane trips and even fewer charters. There were a lot of long bus rides but never any complaining.”

Moos had big dreams at Montana, specifically with regards to academics. He learned how to make money, eventually increasing the department’s revenue from corporate and private gifts by 300 percent, and how to spend it effectively, creating an academic support program alongside $4 million in facilities enhancements.

While the budget was still sparse, the extra spending on academics paid off as the Grizzlies had 269 athletes named academic all-conference during his time in Missoula (1990-95).

At Oregon, Moos had the challenge of capitalizing on the recent successes of a formerly moribund program. The football team had just started to win with regularity, and Moos needed to convince the deep wallets that the program could be a power with sufficient financial backing.

It is obvious that much of the subsequent success Moos had in turning UO into a national brand was due to the close relationship between the school and Phil Knight, the Nike co-founder and former CEO who has given well over $100 million to the athletic department.

But it is a misunderstanding of UO’s rise to heap all the credit on Knight’s Nike-clad feet. When Moos arrived in Eugene in 1995 the Ducks had a single million-dollar donor. When he left in 2007 they had 18 of them.

At WSU, Moos has had to use all of the tricks he’s learned at his previous stops. He’s sought major gifts from huge donors, and he’s expanded WSU’s small-donor base. But it’s his thinking outside the box that has made a real impact. Moos is credited with being the influence behind convincing the Pac-12 to agree to an equal-revenue split during TV negotiations. The TV income is what allowed the Cougars to finance the bonds that paid for the facilities that have the football team on the winning track.