The Washington State University Board of Regents voted to take several actions related to the budget shortfalls being experienced by the Athletics Department during its June 9 retreat.
Athletics Director Pat Chun opened the meeting by speaking to the budgetary issues that have come to light in recent weeks. The department is anticipating an $11.5 million budget deficit for fiscal year 2023 due to a combination of Pac‑12 Conference and other revenue shortcomings as well as departmental expense overruns.
“Throughout this process, we have been committed to seeking the truth to determining where we stand, how we got here, and then being transparent about all of it,” Chun said. “Ultimately as the leader of our department, I am responsible for what occurs under my watch and I own any of our current financial challenges.”
He went on to note that WSU Athletics achieved its first balanced budget in more than a decade in fiscal year 2022 after years of persistent challenges. Fiscal responsibility has been and continues to be a key for the department moving forward. Additional fiscal oversight by the university is also being imposed.
“We must do better, and we will,” Chun said. “We have and will continue to make any and all necessary adjustments and changes.”
The Athletics Department is taking several steps to resolve the issues, including a freeze on hiring, halting non-essential travel and purchases, pausing new professional development and adding additional checks on expenses and purchases.
As a result of these challenges, Regents voted to approve the budget adjustments and athletics budget transfers for fiscal year 2023 in compliance with state law, as well as approving the athletics budget for fiscal year 2024.
As the Pac‑12 Conference works towards a new media rights deal, the board also voted to give President Kirk Schulz or his designee the authority to assign media rights.
Many of the challenges WSU Athletics has faced in recent years date back to budget projections provided to the university by the Pac‑12 Conference under a previous administration.
“We made a decision as an institution over a decade ago based on a failed vision,” Chun said. “We do see a pathway forward with what the next TV deal is (and with) Kirk personally worked on the college football playoff expansion. That’s going to impact us, but you don’t see that reflected in some gross inflated number in FY 25 and beyond.”
WSU is also facing uncertainty in its budgeting beyond fiscal year 2024 due to the unfinished nature of the Pac‑12 Conference’s new media rights deal, something Schulz said he expects to be resolved by the end of June.
Chun continued, “This year, it is our belief it is an aberration, I think we’ve proven it over time that we have been fiscally responsible. We take pride (in the fact that) we are the most fiscally efficient athletics program in the country. We do more with less resources, it’s been well documented by people that cover us.”
As part of the fiscal year 2023 and 2024 athletics budget, the university is providing $1.4 and $2.4 million respectively in new institutional support. This support was approved more than 18 months ago by the Board of Regents, with the source coming from central revenue streams, largely interest revenue. No state funds or tuition dollars are being used for that new institutional support.
Regents peppered presenters with questions related to how leaders are analyzing the causes of cost overruns, a process that remains ongoing, as well as plans to address the current deficit.
Faculty representative Judi McDonald spoke to concerns among faculty about cuts being made to units and departments across the system at the same time the athletics budget is increasing.
Regent Marty Dickinson noted that in talking with key legislators, questions about the structure of the athletics budget and whether it will operate in a deficit moving forward have arisen, as well as questions about the source of institutional support dollars for athletics.
“Can we actually be having profitable athletics or a break-even athletics budget, because the credibility is waning, if not tarnished at the moment, because we’ve been here, having this conversation, with a very positive outlook, and then find ourselves struggling to make right of that.”
In response to the budget challenges, WSU is taking several steps, including implementing new executive oversight that’ll meet monthly and include a member of Faculty Senate as well as a member of the Board of Regents. WSU is also stabilizing athletics financial operations as well as supporting and strengthening athletics’ financial management.
After voting to approve the action items listed on the agenda, Regents heard presentations from Schulz on his goals and objectives for 2023–24, the university’s Online Learning Portal, and the WSU System Strategic Plan’s progress. After lunch, Regents had a focused discussion of the university’s strategic position.
The next scheduled meeting of the WSU Board of Regents will take place Sept. 14–15 in Pullman.