Self-sufficient athletic departments? It's all in the accounting
Washington says revenue produced by the athletic department covers all its expenses, and that it doesn't get state money. At Washington State, the athletic department receives nearly $3 million from a general university fund each year. Both schools get money, around $2 million each, in tuition waivers for female athletes.
Seattle Times staff reporter
One of the beauties of sports is that the scoreboard doesn't lie, at the end of each event revealing a result without dispute.
But the bottom line of an athletic department budget can be a little less black and white.
The University of Washington, for instance, has long claimed to be self-sustaining, meaning that it doesn't rely on any sources for funding other than revenue it brings in itself.
It's a statement that chafed many at rival Washington State during UW's unsuccessful quest earlier this year to get funding approved from the state Legislature for a renovation of Husky Stadium.
"They were saying they were totally self-sufficient and I had to point out that they receive tuition waivers [for female athletes] just like we did," said Washington State athletic director Jim Sterk.
In fact, UW received $1.97 million in tuition waivers for female athletes in 2008-09 as part of a state law passed in 1989 to help state schools comply with Title IX, a federal law that requires schools to provide equal opportunities for men and women. WSU was to receive nearly $2.1 million for tuition waivers for female athletes, according to its preliminary 2008-09 budget.
Washington athletic director Scott Woodward says he has always pointed out the tuition waivers when asked and doesn't think it invalidates Washington's larger claim — that it doesn't receive any funding from the general university budget or general taxes for its athletic department. He also says "we didn't ask for" the tuition waivers but because they are available, will take them to allow the school to field more women's sports. WSU led the fight for the tuition waivers, saying at the time it needed some financial relief to comply with the mandate to equally fund athletic programs for both men and women.
Washington cited the self-sufficiency of the athletic department in its news release announcing the elimination of the men's and women's swimming programs, saying that expenses needed to be cut to allow the department to remain able to pay all of its own bills. Actual operating expenses at UW for 2007-08 were $60.6 million, operating revenues $64 million.
At Washington State, operating expenses for 2007-08 were $29.2 million, operating revenues $29.6 million. The operating budget at WSU for 2008-09 estimated expenses and revenues at $28.8 million each.
Washington has claimed to be self-sufficient in athletics for as long as anyone can remember. An official history of the athletic department notes that cuts made in the early 1970s were designed in part at maintaining self-sufficiency.
"For me, it's not a matter of pride, it's a matter of practicality," said UW president Mark Emmert. "First and foremost, we are always going to focus on our academic efforts. That's the reason we exist and so while our athletic programs are important and we want to always be competitive, we are not going to be allocating money from other causes for athletics."
WSU supporters claim UW is still fudging the facts a little on that account, saying that the school uses some fundraisers from upper campus to help the athletic department. Woodward, however, says the athletic department compensates upper campus for hours worked on its behalf.
WSU, conversely, has never made a claim of self-sufficiency, for decades getting money from general university sources. Sterk says that this year, the WSU athletic department received about $2.8 million from a general university fund that generates money from auxiliary enterprises such as publications.
Sterk says the money is mostly used to cover the expenses and salaries for administrative support in the department. Sterk also notes that the athletic department pays more than $6 million a year to the school in tuition and room and board for athletes, making the athletic department a net gain on the general university budget — one reason the university is willing to use some general funds to help the athletic department.
Sterk says because of the money the athletic department gives back that "we could make the same case" as UW for being self-sufficient (UW also pays similar expenses for student-athletes to the university).
To many, this might all seem like some fairly meaningless sniping between rivals born out of UW's controversial request for $150 million to help fund a projected $300 million renovation of Husky Stadium.
But the issue of athletic self-sufficiency has taken on increased importance recently as universities struggle to make ends meet in tough economic times.
However, being self-sufficient can mean different things to different schools. Of Pac-10 public schools — USC and Stanford are private and don't have to reveal complete budget details — Arizona and Oregon have also made the claim of being self-sufficient.
However, Oregon, like its rival Oregon State, received about $1.2 million from the state lottery in the 2007-08 fiscal year (70 percent of which must go to nonrevenue sports), money schools in states like Washington don't have access to. The Oregonian newspaper reported recently that Oregon would have been in the red last year without that money.
Arizona receives 315 tuition waivers for student-athletes.
Making it even more difficult to determine true self-sufficiency is that schools do their accounting in all kinds of different ways.
One commonly cited example of how schools do it differently is security at football and basketball games — some schools pay for that out of the general fund, others out of the athletic department budget.
"It's different institutions with different systems," Sterk said. "And that's why the NCAA has had a tough time trying to compare apples and apples. Those of us in the business know it's done differently at different places, that you get different ways of accounting for expenses and revenues and where charges start and stop. It's very, very difficult [to compare]."
The Huskies, however, say their goal is to remain self-sufficient in the way they define it, meaning that other than the tuition waivers, they spend only money that they bring in — mostly via ticket sales, TV revenue and donations, 85 percent of which is generated by the football program.
The school, though, heard some criticism during its effort to secure funding for Husky Stadium — a request it might make to the Legislature again next year — that it was hypocritical to claim self-sufficiency while asking for public money. The money UW has asked for would come from a tourism fund also used to build Safeco Field and Qwest Field.
"I understand how some people would see that as contradictory," Emmert said. "But the reality is that if the dollars we were looking for were available for academic purposes, I would certainly try to use them for that. But that tax was created to promote tourism, and I don't know if I can convince the [King County Commission] that our English department promotes tourism. But I can convince them that our football team does, because it's a fact."
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or email@example.com.
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
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