Former University of Washington Athletic Director Scott Woodward was sharply criticized by UW regents Thursday for not calling attention to a growing deficit in the department’s budget.

Share story

A University of Washington regent slammed former athletic director Scott Woodward on Thursday, saying Woodward did not let the governing board know about a growing deficit in the UW athletic department’s budget.

Regent Jeremy Jaech, the board’s vice chair, described it as “a bad-faith effort” on Woodward’s part to use one-time money, paid in advance to UW for multimedia advertising, and apply it to the budget. Jaech called it “an attempt to make the numbers look better than they really were.”

Woodward left the UW in January for a similar position at Texas A&M. His replacement, Jennifer Cohen, was appointed last month and made her first appearance before the regents Thursday.

“You got handed unwelcome gifts,” Jaech told Cohen.

Last week, the university revealed that the rising costs of providing meals and scholarship aid to student athletes, coupled with declining attendance at Husky Stadium, led to a projected deficit of $14.8 million for the UW athletic department for this year.

“We should have been dealing with this last year,” said Regent Joanne Harrell, who also criticized Woodward for failing to be upfront about the deficit.

During the Thursday meeting, regents approved a financial-stability plan — a combination of budget cuts and revenue increases — to bring the athletic department into fiscal health over three years.

The deficit will be covered by the athletic department’s reserve fund, which has a balance of more than $30 million. But the department is also projecting budget deficits for 2017 and 2019, and the reserve could dwindle to less than $10 million if new revenue projections are not met.

The one-time money that the UW received last year for multimedia and other forms of advertising — which totaled $7 million, roughly the same amount as last year’s deficit — was associated with a complex deal that involves dollars the university receives for advertising displayed during home games. In effect, the athletic department opted to take an advance payment on those revenues last year from the Pac-12. That payment masked last year’s deficit.

The stadium, reopened in 2013 after a $282 million remodel, was financed with a $210 million loan from the UW’s internal lending program, which is also used to finance other building projects on campus.

When regents approved the renovation in 2010, they knew that if attendance was worse than expected, the loan could cause the university’s bond rating to be downgraded.

But Chris Malins, associate vice president in the UW treasury office, said Thursday there’s little likelihood that the athletic department’s deficit, or another $29 million deficit in the school of dentistry, will affect the UW’s bond rating. The university’s overall budget is more than $6 billion.

Football ticket sales at the new stadium have fallen short of projections. Last fall, Husky Stadium drew an average 61,919 fans per game, down from 64,508 in 2014 and 68,769 in 2013. Husky Stadium has not had a sellout since the 2013 Apple Cup.

Ticket revenues across all UW sports brought in $28.8 million in 2014; for 2016, that figure has fallen to an estimated $24.5 million.

“In the past few years, we’ve had so much attrition that new sales haven’t been able to close the gap,” Cohen said.

When fans don’t renew their season tickets, their top concern is the unpredictable game times dictated by a national TV schedule, Cohen said. Live games are also “in competition with the living room,” she said, since it can be more comfortable to watch a game indoors.

She said the Pac-12 athletic directors are pushing for more consistency in changes to start times, and have had limited success. The TV contract still has another eight years to run, though, and “there’s only so much we can do,” she said.