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Red zone: Washington State aims to pay off athletics debt

File photo: Washington State University

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — The athletics budget at Washington State will continue to run deficits for the next four years, growing to $85.1 million, but the deficit is expected to stop growing by 2023, school officials said Thursday.

New athletic director Pat Chun and chief budget officer Joan King will present the deficit reduction plan to the school's Board of Regents on Friday, as required by a new state law.

The athletic department will focus first on getting its budget balanced, then build up reserves and finally repay the accumulated deficit in the future, they said.

The plan relies on increasing revenue by 27 percent in five years while continuing to contain expenses. The debt is expected to reach $85.1 million by the 2022 fiscal year. But the school projects it will stop growing by 2023, when the budget would be balanced. They did not say how long it would take to pay the accumulated deficit.

"We are not here to make excuses," said Chun, who was hired in January to replace Bill Moos after Moos departed for Nebraska. The deficits were created under Moos' leadership when the school invested heavily in new facilities and high-priced coaches.

"We are here to move forward, take fiscal responsibility and provide a world-class student-athlete experience," Chun said in a statement.

Washington State, which is in Pullman, already has the lowest annual operating expenses for athletics in the Pac-12 Conference, the school said. It also has the lowest annual sports budget, about $70 million, of any program in a Power 5 conference, the school said.

Much of the debt is connected to new facilities, such as a $61 million football operations complex. Football coach Mike Leach is paid $3.5 million a year, far more than any of his predecessors.

While the athletic department went on a spending binge under Moos, television revenues and donations were lower than expected, the school said. Ticket sales for football games are limited by the size of Martin Stadium, which holds fewer than 33,000 fans.

Under a new state law, public universities in Washington that experience operating deficits must develop deficit-reduction plans that must be approved by their governing boards. The boards are also required to approve any expenditures exceeding $250,000. The deficit reduction plans must be publicly accessible.

Chun noted there are some encouraging signs.

Contributions to the Cougar Athletic Fund reached record levels this year, currently at $6.4 million and climbing, he said. The school is also setting records for football ticket sales, Chun said.

A recent internal audit of the athletic department found extensive past mismanagement, including possible inflation of home football attendance figures and improper distribution of free tickets to football games, among other problems.

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