Despite increasing ticket sales by almost $1 million and decreasing operating expenses by about three quarters of a million dollars, the Washington State athletic department closed its 2015 fiscal year with a deficit of more than $13 million.

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Despite increasing ticket sales by almost $1 million and decreasing operating expenses by about three quarters of a million dollars, the Washington State athletic department closed its 2015 fiscal year with a deficit of more than $13 million.

This marks the second year in a row that the Cougars have incurred a $13 million deficit, but it actually fell from $13,714,442 in 2014 to $13,274,324 in 2015 – a difference of $440,118.

Athletic director Bill Moos addressed the deficit in a letter sent to WSU athletics donors Tuesday in which he highlighted that Cougars have the Pac-12’s second-lowest expense budget and spend about $12 million less than the conference average.

“Our revenues have increased significantly since 2010, and I believe WSU Athletics is positioned well to continue our upward trajectory in terms of revenue generation,” Moos wrote in the letter.

WSU took in $43,112,605 in operating revenue in 2015 – $314,212 less than the year before. This stems in part from a $400,901 decrease in contributions.

The Cougars also took in significantly less in Pac-12 Networks distribution revenue — $1.4 million – than they had hoped. WSU originally had projected the Pac-12 Networks’ distribution revenue at around $5 million or $6 million per school.

“We were being optimistic trying to compare it to the Big Ten Network, even though their footprint is significantly larger, because we own 100 percent of ours and they own 49 percent of their network,” Moos said in a conference call with reporters Tuesday. “They grew very fast, to almost $10 million per school. We were looking conservatively, by now, being at about $5 or $6 million. We thought that was fairly realistic.”

Still, things haven’t gone as well for the Pac-12 Networks as hoped, and the fact that the conference has yet to reach a deal with DirecTV remains a sticking point, and the subject of ongoing negotiations.

Moos, who has said he likes the conference having full ownership of its network, also mentioned that it has explored the possibility of taking the network to the open market.

“We’re optimistic that (Pac-12 Networks distribution) number will grow, but there’s also the prospect of going at this in a different manner, which might include going to market not unlike the SEC Network and Big Ten,” Moos said. “We’ve had discussions with the presidents to some degree, to look at some of the advantages and disadvantages. It’s something we’re exploring. It’s an option.”

Pac-12 Networks revenue aside, the Cougars’ ledger is indicative of the cost that comes with trying to finance a Power Five athletic department from Pullman, one of the most remote outposts in major college sports.

In comparison with many Pac-12 programs, “We’re down at the bottom in terms of what we’re spending. This isn’t a lavish program that’s throwing money out the window,” Moos said. “I think we’ve made the moves that need to be made to become competitive and stay competitive once we get there.”

The Cougars spent $521,318 more in coaching salaries and about $1.36 million more in support- and administrative-staff salaries in 2015.

The significant increase in support-staff salaries is correlated to the NCAA’s new rules that allow schools to provide their student-athletes with full meals, which coincided with the opening of the Gray W Legends Lounge within the Cougars’ Football Operations Building.

The Grey W Legends Lounge features a full dining hall that serves three meals a day. WSU has also bulked up its nutrition staff to give its student-athletes better access to nutrition information.

“We had to invest in chefs and cooks, administrative staffers, servers and the food itself,” Moos said. “I’m proud to say we fuel student-athletes as well or better than anyone in the country.”

Last year, Moos projected that the athletic department was on track to become solvent in 2019, but he said Tuesday that a targeted solvency date has become “kind of a moving target.”

That stems from how the NCAA relaxed rules about what schools can feed their athletes while also deciding, in a vote last year, to allow schools to provide their student-athletes with a cost-of-attendance stipend.

WSU adopted that cost-of-attendance stipend for its student-athletes in fall 2015, and it projects that will cost the athletic department an additional $820,000 this year.

If the Cougars have any hope to stay on that road toward solvency while covering those additional expenses and financing possible new construction projects, they’ll need to raise more independent funds.

Membership in the Cougar Athletic Fund increased by 1,500 in the past six months, to about 7,000. Moos also hopes excitement about the football team’s successful 2015 season will translate to higher attendance at Martin Stadium and increases in season-ticket sales.

“We need to improve our annual giving. That’s instrumental for us to have success across the board,” Moos said. “Over the past two years, we’ve been at more than 90 percent of capacity at Martin Stadium. That’s encouraging, but even if we’re at 100 percent, we’re still at a disadvantage (compared) to most of our peers in the conference who have similar expenses, but at capacity they bring in 50,000 to 60,000 per game.

“I’m optimistic on the TV side. Getting the equal TV pay day was huge for us to even be having this conversation in regard to facilities and coaches.”

On their part, Moos said the Cougars are trying to think outside the box by “exploring (various) revenue streams.”

“We have to grow the ones we have, but we like to use our imagination and be innovation, and we’ve done that over the last six years here. We’re shifting it to another gear,” Moos said.

That could include selling naming rights to Beasley Coliseum or Martin Stadium for the right price.

“I wouldn’t say no, but the money would have to be right,” Moos said. “Because I have a conflict in the traditional part of me and the aggressive part of me.”



  • At first glance, WSU’s contributions revenue from the 2015 fiscal year ($6,617,601) was about $400,091 less than contributions from the year before. But Moos said this is due to the timing of when WSU closes its books. The Cougs host the Apple Cup against the Huskies in even years, and usually receive an increase in donations as fans jostle for better Apple Cup tickets. “If you’re going to have an even year, your contributions are counting toward the previous year because they have to be in before June 30.”
  • WSU’s remodel of Martin Stadium and the construction of the football operations building was financed through a $130 million bond. Consequently, Moos said that any new facilities construction projects from here on out will have to be financed by the athletic department through contributions.
  • WSU’s annual debt service for aforementioned remodeling projects falls under the “Direct Facilities, Maintenance and Rental” line item in the athletic department’s budget spreadsheet. The Cougs spent $9,374,656 on their debt service, with $2,753,638 of this attributable to the construction of the football operations building. The balance of  $6,621,018 is attributable to improvements made to north side and south side premium seating at Martin Stadium. The 2015 fiscal year was the first full year of debt service.
  • The $1,028,191 in severance payments reflected in WSU’s operating expenses for 2015 went toward paying dismissed former football defensive coordinator Mike Breske and former baseball coach Donnie Marbut.
  • The WSU Athletic Department’s $13 million deficit ends up being covered on paper by the university for now, Moos said. “It kind of like a line of credit for a household. We have it, but we’re obligated to pay it off. It’s motivation to try to get these annual budgets balanced as well as we can,” Moos said. “We don’t receive a large amount of university support right now, just money to cover our tuition waivers, as mandated by the Title IX laws, and the central administration’s compliance area.”
  • The silver lining to the Cougars’ revenue sheet however, is that the Pac-12 is only in Year 4 of its 12-year television rights deal with ESPN and Fox. The deal gives each member school an average of about $20.5 million per year but, per contract terms, increases by five percent every year. “By the end of that contract, we’re seeing $28.5 million,” Moos said.