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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

WSU proposes ‘tough decision’ to transfer $1.4M into athletics this year amid $11.5M deficit

Pat Chun, Washington State University’s athletic director, testifies at a March hearing at the U.S. Capitol.  (Orion Donovan-Smith/The Spokesman-Review)

Washington State University wants to tap into other university funding and restructure its financial oversight after a combination of Pac-12 woes and overspending this year left its athletic department in an $11.5 million hole.

Athletics Director Pat Chun, speaking to reporters Friday morning, called 2023’s budget shortfall “an aberration” and said his office would be working to tighten controls on spending. He also said revenue from a new TV deal and the college football playoff expansion would lead to a better financial situation after the close of the fiscal year later this month.

“We’re going to have to make some tough decisions this year,” Chun said. “It’s no different than most years.”

The university already announced hiring freezes and restrictions on travel in anticipation of a meeting of its Board of Regents in Pullman next week, where the plan will be pitched to decision-makers to reconcile this year’s budget and plan for next year’s. Chun also acknowledged the April resignation of Brent Meyer, former chief financial officer of athletics who started at the university in October, and said the department was looking for his replacement.

“We’ve gone five out of the last 13 months without an athletics CFO,” Chun said. “So the transition in that role has impacted us.”

The plan to regents calls for a new infusion of cash into the department labeled as “institutional support,” which will total $1.4 million this year and increase to $2.6 million for fiscal years 2026 and 2027, respectively. Bill Stevens, a spokesman for the university’s athletics department, said the source of the money was “self-sustaining, noncore local funds,” which he said included money on hand for the university that is not intended to be used for academics. But he said Friday afternoon he could not provide more specifics about the source of that money.

WSU is required to report its athletics budget to comply with a state law passed in 2017 and championed by state Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane. The law states if a deficit is expected, the board of regents or trustees must “approve a plan for how programs will reduce operating deficits in future fiscal years.”

In addition to its financial reports to the regents, the department includes plans for what it’s calling a change to financial management oversight. Chun and the university’s vice president for finance and administration will meet monthly under the new plan, along with a member of the board of regents and the Faculty Senate to review revenue and expenses. A new athletics area finance manager position will be created, and the department will have to reconcile its purchases monthly, including travel expenses, under the plan that will be proposed to the board.

The department said its expenses in 2023 exceeded forecasts by $5.5 million. The bulk of that total ($4.8 million) was from travel, recruiting, meals for student-athletes and medical expenses. The rest was due to increases in pay for employees and larger-than-expected financial aid awards to athletes.

The Pac-12 woes also accounted for part of the hole in the department’s budget. The conference has revised its revenue distributions because of overpayment from a TV partner, identified as Comcast in multiple reports, and WSU is expecting $3.5 million less than what it was allotted this year as a result. The conference also spent more than it anticipated moving its headquarters out of San Francisco.

Chun said decisions about filling vacant positions would happen in the coming weeks. The university does not anticipate having to cut any sports, and financial decisions that are made will have “little to no effect on our current student-athletes,” Chun said.

“Our most critical hires are the ones that work directly with our student-athletes,” he said. “Those are the ones that we will prioritize once the calendar turns for us here on July 1.”

In order to reconcile the budget for 2023, the department will ask regents to sign off on a transfer of funds from other departments to cover an ongoing budget deficit that is expected to total about $74.1 million this year. That includes debt from past and future construction projects, including a planned Champions Center on the Pullman campus that will consolidate athletics staff. The project is expected to break ground next year.

“Some of that is existing debt that were decisions made because we needed facility upgrades in the past, and those decisions were made by previous administrations, but the need was there,” Chun said.

The plan calls for moving $57.6 million from housing and dining, $5 million from parking and $11.5 million from unidentified reserves.

The Board of Regents will hear the plan and is expected to take action during a meeting Friday in Pullman. The meeting will begin at 8 a.m. at the Elson S. Floyd Cultural Center on WSU’s Pullman campus and will be broadcast live on the university’s YouTube page.