Athletics accounts for half decrease in reserves

Athletics accounts for half decrease in reserves
Teva Mayer / The Daily Evergreen
The starting reserve balance of $205 million in 2013 comes from a chart WSU published in the fall. Deficits for the university and for athletics come from the Budget Office. The athletics deficits differ slightly from those previously reported, and the Budget Office could not immediately explain the discrepancy. Teva Mayer / The Daily Evergreen

Newly released financial figures show WSU Athletics accounts for roughly half the drop in university savings, which administrators have used to justify system-wide spending cuts of 2.5 percent.

Officials have traditionally said the athletics budget is separate from the university’s, and that athletics does not take money from academics or vice versa. But once athletics began overspending its own budget, it dipped into WSU’s general savings, draining about $50 million since 2013 and contributing to a precarious financial situation.

The athletics deficit of the past five years is nearly four times larger than the cumulative deficit of all WSU colleges and academic units combined, excluding the new Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, according to data provided by the WSU Budget Office.

This reflects a nationwide tension between athletics and academics. Universities — including WSU — insist robust sports programs boost their appeal. WSU President Kirk Schulz has called athletics the “front door of the university.” But some argue these priorities are misguided.

“Universities exist for a reason: for higher learning,” said David Ridpath, a sports administration professor at Ohio University and member of the Drake Group, which advocates for an overhaul of commercialized college sports.

“It’s not about elite sport development,” he added, “or our entertainment, or coaches getting paid millions of dollars.”

As at WSU, overspending on sports often carves a deep debt, with the consequences extending beyond athletics. Schulz’s plan to curb the overall drop in central reserves has resulted in the elimination of the Performing Arts program and a near-total hiring freeze across all areas of the university.

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