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A Cougar Athletic Fund Conundrum

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NCAA Football: Washington at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Author’s Note: I wrote most of this article a long time ago. As time went by, I didn’t think it was worth publishing, for a few reasons, the principle one being I’m lazy and forgot about it. That changed recently, when I received an email that you’ll see below.

Before I begin with this semi-rant, I want to assert that this seems like a mountain/molehill or tempest/teapot situation. It’s something that makes me curious about WSU’s Cougar Athletic Fund donation and season ticket policy, so I’m wondering if any other season ticket holders/donors have the same question I do.

The figures I’m going to list are my actual donation. I’m listing them only because if I get into “donation figure x was raised to monthly amount y which resulted in annual total z” etcetera, I will do little more than confuse myself. The important part of donating to WSU is that you actually donate, not the amount you give. (h/t woolybugger) Also, I’m willing to bet that I give far less than most people. Let’s get to it.

One atmospheric - WSU’s fiscal year ends on June 30. In my opinion, that’s part of the problem here.

After the 2011 football season ended, I finally convinced myself that if I was going to complain about the program’s direction (this was before Wulff got the axe), I needed to buy a couple season tickets and donate to the program. Mike Leach’s hiring only made me more excited that I’d decided to try and help the athletic department.

So, beginning in January of 2012, I bought two season tickets and pledged $1,000 per year to the CAF. I decided to do monthly installments of $83.33. In the first year, there were multiple instances when my monthly charge wasn’t withdrawn because of a credit card error, which I had to bring to the CAF’s attention because, even though they weren’t getting paid, they didn’t think it was important to let me know.

What’s more - even though I get “A Lot” passes for every game, the “A” lots are almost always full by the time my brother gets there (I let him use them since I hardly get to go). Grape job with those parking passes, WSU. Maybe go back and look up the definition of “parking pass.” But those aren’t the reasons for this post.

The yearly contribution was enough to cover our six seatbacks in the lower part of Section 4. In 2016, we decided to move up a bit. The seatback went up to $1200 for the six seats, so I adjusted my monthly payment to $100. No issues at all. That brings us to 2017.

As you’re aware, season ticket renewals came out in January, and many of the ticket and seatback prices increased. Like most of you, I was completely fine with the elevated price. My seatbacks in Section 4 went from $200 apiece to $250. Ok, I thought. I’ll just increase my 2017 pledge to $125 per month. No problem, right?

Problem.

When I went to the Check Out page to renew my tickets, I couldn’t move forward with the purchase until I ponied up $800, in addition to the price of the tickets. Well, I didn’t really feel up to paying that in one lump sum. I waited a few days and called the CAF when I had some time. The person on the other end of the phone happily signed me up for the increase to $125 per month.

Next, I called the season ticket office to renew via phone, since I couldn’t get past the $800 charge online. I told them that I wanted to keep my seats, and that I’d already called the CAF to increase my donation so I could keep them. The person on the other end of the phone said all was well. Good to go, right?

Not good. Not going.

A week later, someone from the CAF called me back and explained that they need my $1,500 seatback donation by the end of their fiscal year on 30 June. I said this seemed odd. The tickets and associated donation are for 2017. My tickets won’t be delivered until August. The fiscal year begins 1 July. Why do I need to reach the $1,500 mark before I even see the tickets?

The person on the other end of the line was not sympathetic. I’m aware that he doesn’t make policy, but he should be able to explain why I have to donate $1,500 before the fiscal year is finished. Anyway, I wanted to keep my tickets, even though I probably won’t see a game in person next season. So I raised my donation to $160 per month through June. Once the June payment is made, I have to call back and reduce my donation to $125 per month so I can meet the $1,500 mark next year. (more on this later)

So here is my issue: Had I ponied up the $800 online in order to meet the $1,500 threshold, do you think anyone from the CAF would have called and asked whether I wanted to keep donating $100 per month, in addition to the $800 I’d just dropped? My guess is they definitely would not have. Thus, my initial $1,200 pledge for 2016-17 would have become $2,000 ($800 at the time of ticket renewal, plus the $700 I’d donated July through January, plus my standing pledge of $100 per month for February through June).

As it stands, my $1,200 pledge for 2016-17 is actually $1,500. Doesn’t it seem like they’re, to quote another author, goosing the numbers somewhat to help the bottom line? Again, this doesn’t seem like a huge deal. But I have a tough time wrapping my head around why I have to meet next year’s donation mark before next year (both the FY and the actual season) even starts. It’s not like I’m going to cancel my withdrawal as soon as the tickets arrive in the mail.

The best analogy I can think of involves tuition. Let’s say your child goes to private school, and tuition is $3,200 per year. You pay eight monthly installments of $400, September-April (I’ve done this, that’s how it works). In December, the school tells you tuition is going up to $4,000 next year. You think, “Ok, starting next September, I’ll pay $500 per month.” “Oh no,” the school administrator says, “You have to get to $4,000 this year in order to hold your kid’s spot for next year, so we’ll need $2,400 by May 1.” Uh, what??!! That’s patently absurd, but here we are.

Update

So here’s the capper, and the reason I decided to publish this after a couple months of letting it sit. The first picture is an email I got today (1 June).

Here’s the deal - I’m already a CAF member. Matter of fact, I have been since 2011. So Mr. Moos, why are you asking me to become a member? The logical person might say, “Sure, but the FY ends on 30 June, and he’s asking you to continue as a member.” Well, yeah, except that I’ve already made my $1,500 pledge, which is tied to the season tickets I already paid for, which is why I wrote this damn article.

But it gets better.

I’d like to direct your attention to the final sentence of the penultimate paragraph, where they ask me to become the 632nd CAF member from Whitman County. One problem - I don’t live in Whitman County. Matter of fact, I don’t live in Washington, on the west coast, or even in the Pacific Time Zone. But this intrigued me, so I wanted to see how far I really am from Pullman.

It’s a long way!

So to recap: If I leave now, hit the Wawa to load the car with Red Bulls, Mountain Dew, coffee and Drake’s Coffee Cakes, I can be in Pullman in just under two days! To be fair, I have my season tickets mailed to my brother’s house in Pullman, which might be the root of the issue. However, all correspondence from the CAF, including those meaningless letters which I wish they’d stop sending to save money, come to my current residence. There’s really no excuse for them to think I live in Pullman.

Taken separately, these things don’t seem like such a big deal. But if you add them up - the repeated payment issues (which I have to bring to their attention), the constant reminders to renew my season tickets after I’ve renewed them, the requirement to pay ahead of schedule, the email asking me to join the CAF even though I’ve been a member for four years, the ever-changing story from the CAF employees (depending on who answers the phone) etc., it points to a much larger problem.

That problem, as another author succinctly said, is that the CAF is a clown show. When there are issues such as this, the blame does not lie with the person who answers the phone. The blame lies squarely with leadership and management.

And it’s not like WSU can afford to have poor leaders running their fundraising arm because the athletic department is awash in cash. It’s the opposite. WSU sorely needs to raise as much money as it can. WSU is not doing that, partly because the people who are in charge of raising that money have one job, which they’re doing poorly. As a result, the department continues to operate at a deficit.

I realize part of this can’t be helped, since it isn’t like the university can adjust its FY to mesh with season ticket renewals. It just seems to me this isn’t a logical way to treat people when they are literally giving you their money. I’m willing to bet that there are even more WSU fans out there who are willing to donate. It’s just that the people running the CAF, starting with Bill “sizzle n’ steak” Moos either don’t know what they’re doing or don’t care to address the problems. In the end, it’s the student-athletes who suffer, and that’s a shame.

Now I'd appreciate it if you'd remove yourself from the grassy portion of my property.