Despite the President’s pledge last September, there is still no university plan for the Athletics Department to repay the over 80 million dollars it currently owes WSU for covering years of Athletics’ deficit-spending ways.
At the September 23, 2021 Faculty Senate meeting, President Schulz agreed that it was important for the university to put in place an enforceable plan for the Athletics Department to repay over 80 million dollars of debt to WSU. This debt has accumulated over the last 8-10 years as WSU has used profits from other units to cover the annual deficit spending by the Athletics Department so that the university can balance its books each year. Surprisingly, we learned that all of that money was floated to Athletics without any formal or binding agreement for repayment. He seemed to agree that wasn’t good policy and vowed to announce a repayment plan by the end of the fall semester. The end of the fall semester has long come and gone, and there has been no public announcement of a repayment plan.
Perhaps there are some who get a kick out of gazing up at empty luxury skyboxes in the football stadium in Pullman, but they shouldn’t forget that this debt-fueled expansion by the Athletics Department years ago has real-life costs today. 80 million dollars would surely go a long way in covering the costs of regular COVID testing for faculty, staff, and students across the entire WSU system. That money could buy quite a few N95 masks for our instructors and graduate student TAs all over the state. Students’ tuition was raised in part to help pay for the costs of student medical care (including mental health), which has been lacking on our campuses. That crucial care could have been provided by the money that covered the Athletics Department’s deficit-spending instead. Or that money could put a big dent in the gender-based disparity in faculty salaries. The list could go on and on.
We need a publicly available and enforceable plan that details how and when the Athletics Department will make WSU whole again by repaying over 80 million dollars of debt to the university while at the same time making its annual debt payments to external bondholders so that the internal debt doesn’t continue to balloon over the next 20 years. The WSU resources that were funneled to Athletics to fill in their deficits year after year are now needed to support the health and well-being of WSU staff, faculty, and students across the state. The President has missed his own deadline for announcing the plan he said was an important priority when it was raised at the Faculty Senate meeting last fall. In fact, it seems there has been no movement on this issue over the last 6 months. In the face of this, it isn’t illogical for members of academic departments that have experienced years of significant budget cuts to conclude that recovering what amounts to an 80 million dollar (and counting), no-strings-attached, interest-free “loan” from WSU to the Athletics Department to cover annual payments to the external bondholders who financed the new sports-only buildings and facilities–construction that, as it turns out, the Athletics Department doesn’t bring in sufficient revenue to pay for on its own–isn’t much of a priority to the administration, despite what faculty are told when we raise this serious issue publicly. The administration would be wise not to ignore the growing frustration over this double standard, whereby academic departments are forced to cut staff, freeze hires, and pay graduate students next to nothing while Athletics spends beyond its means year after year after year with no repercussions and no plan for repayment.
When will WSU get that money back from Athletics?
Like you, we are concerned about the athletic debt. During the first senate meeting in fall 2022, President Schulz identified three parts to the Athletics budget plan:
- Moving the program from deficit spending (completed)
- Building a reserve account for future unanticipated expenses (planning now)
- Long-term servicing of institutional debt
To review comments from President Kirk Schulz, see the September 2022 Faculty Senate Meeting. In the Faculty Senate Executive Officer meeting last week with President Schulz and Provost Chilton (11/28/22), we raised the issue again and asked if there was any information about the new media contract being negotiated. President Schulz told us that he will be providing information about the athletics budget to the Board of Regents at their next meeting. At that time, he will also make the information available to Faculty Senate.