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Washington State athletic department implements temporary freeze on hiring and other measures as Pac-12’s financial issues persist

May 23, 2023 Updated Tue., May 23, 2023 at 8:31 p.m.

Washington State University President Kirk Schulz speaks at a ceremony in 2020 in Spokane.  (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)
Washington State University President Kirk Schulz speaks at a ceremony in 2020 in Spokane. (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

PULLMAN – Washington State’s athletic department is implementing a temporary hiring freeze across all programs and putting a pause on nonessential travel, purchases and professional development, according to a statement issued Monday by school president Kirk Schulz.

In explaining the decision, Schulz pointed to three factors.

The Pac-12 received $50 million in overpayments from a TV partner – Comcast, according to multiple reports – over several years. Now, the conference must settle its debts.

“As has already been widely reported, each Pac-12 university will see a significant decrease in revenue distribution,” Schulz said. “The decrease is a result of overpayments from one of the conference media partners that must be resolved.”

Schulz also noted the financial burden that has come with the Pac-12’s decision to move its headquarters out of San Francisco.

“Relocation of the Pac-12 headquarters out of San Francisco exceeded budget projections as well,” Schulz said.

Lastly, WSU is expecting its athletics budget to “exceed its expenditures for the year due to inadequate documentation of revenues and expenses,” Schulz added. He did not provide specifics relating to WSU athletics’ apparent budget mismanagement.

The fiscal measures will only impact WSU athletics.

WSU will conduct a “thorough review to determine the full extent of the most recent deficit and its root cause,” and report its findings during a WSU Board of Regents meeting next month. The athletic department will partner with the school’s office of finance and administration to ensure a balanced budget for fiscal year 2024, which starts this summer, Schulz said.

“My fiscal expectations for Cougar Athletics remain the same – an annual balanced operating budget, the development of appropriate reserve funds, and a repayment plan to pay down internal debt,” Schulz said. “As planned, we will also continue to engage in conversations with the Athletics Council in the fall around repayment of accumulated debt.

“I remain committed to transparency about the Cougar Athletics budget and improving the fiscal health of the university. We will move forward with solutions and additional accountability measures when we have further discussions next month.”

Pac-12 expert Jon Wilner reported last month that Comcast is withholding $50 million in payments to the conference through the end of summer 2024 because of the overpayments. As a result, each Pac-12 school is expected to lose at least $4 million in revenue this year, per Wilner’s report. Conference Chief Financial Officer Brent Willman and Pac-12 Network president Mark Shuken were fired earlier this year for their roles in the Comcast overpayment scandal.

The Comcast fiasco is just another major hurdle for the Pac-12, which is in the midst of media contract negotiations that have been dragging on for months. The conference is hoping to find a profitable media partner, so it can stay afloat and compete financially with other power conferences like the Big Ten, which will add Pac-12 members USC and UCLA next year.

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