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WSU Athletics announces $11.5 million budget shortfall

Haven’t we been here before?

PULLMAN, WA - MARCH 5: Washington State Cougars Men’s Basketball versus the University of Oregon Ducks at Beasley Coliseum - Pat Chun Jack Ellis/CougCenter

In 2009, under then-Athletic Director Jim Sterk, WSU announced a budget shortfall of more than $1 million. This was a time when the economy was still in the toilet, and nearly every industry was facing budget doom. The shortfall back then forced Sterk and WSU to tighten things up and make it clear that WSU wouldn’t be cutting any sports.

Fast forward almost 14 years and now-Athletic Director Pat Chun is making the same announcements, at least when it comes to tightening the budget and cutting sports. But the college sports landscape has changed immensely since then, and so has WSU’s budget shortfall, which the school announced yesterday is a whopping $11.5 million.

The shortfall, alluded to last week by WSU President Kirk Schulz, is due to multiple factors:

  • An estimated $3.5 million reduction in Pac-12 distributions due to the Comcast fiasco.
  • The high cost of moving the conference headquarters out of San Francisco.
  • Lower revenue related to student sports passes and other student-paid fees due to a deep decrease of student enrollment.
  • WSU spending much more than it forecasted due to inflationary costs, financial aid costs and increased compensation for some hourly and student employees.

Chun met with the media yesterday and acknowledged that Brent Meyer, who was hired as the department’s chief financial officer last October, resigned in April. Chun also made it clear that WSU wouldn’t cut any sports.

Keep in mind that to remain in division one, WSU needs, at minimum, seven sports for men and seven for women, or six for men and eight for women. Right now, WSU fields six men’s sports and nine women’s sports. So, WSU could only cut a women’s sport, and then you still have to comply with Title IX. And cutting sports doesn’t necessarily equal money savings.

Chun described the $11.5 million shortfall as “an aberration,” and we should all hope he’s right. WSU Athletics is one year removed from a balanced budget, which is commendable. I’m no finance expert, but it seems an $11.5 million shortfall isn’t the result of some minor missed forecast in a small area of the budget.

Another thing to keep in mind: Washington law requires public universities to publicly report their athletics budgets, and if there’s a deficit, the school’s board must be presented with and approve a plan to get out of that deficit. It seems that part of WSU’s plan is to transfer money from the university to the athletic department over the next three years.

As Kip Hill, reporting for The Spokesman-Review, writes:

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.

The line “not intended to be used for academics” is key and was no doubt an attempt at a peace treaty with the faculty. We’ll see how that goes.

Moving forward, Chun said the athletic department will meet monthly with the university’s executive vice president for finance and administration to review the plan to dig out of the $11.5 million hole. Also in those meetings will be a member of the board of regents and a member of the faculty senate. Athletics is also creating a new finance manager position.

So, the news isn’t good, but WSU has a plan to reconcile the mess. Will that plan work? Check back in a year.

One last thing: The optics on the tweet below aren’t all that great, but it’s still funny. I’m betting this visit from former Coug and current financial helper Jed Collins was planned well before the budget news was set to hit the streets, and these visits are common and good for athletes. But, man, the jokes sometimes write themselves:

Go Cougs.