Sterk confronts tuition hikes, budget cuts

JIM STERK

MASSIVE STATE BUDGET cuts won't have a major impact on Washington State athletics, but tuition increases will exacerbate the need to step up donations to the department. In an interview with Cougfan.com, WSU athletic director Jim Sterk provided a mix of positive and negative news Monday in regard to the financial status of Cougar athletics.

Sterk, clarifying previous reports, said he expects that the 14 percent tuition increases in each of the next two school years will cost the athletic department approximately $500,000 more for scholarships in 2009-10 and $1 million more in 2010-11.

This comes at the same time the athletic department is facing a proposed $350,000 annual reduction in athletics funding (not the originally speculated $175,000 per year in each of the next two years) because of the state budget environment.

WSU's annual scholarship bill currently totals $5.8 million a year. Support via seatback donations, fundraising events, donations and endowment returns covers only about 3.7 million of it, leaving a $2.1 million chasm -- now ticketed to grow to $3.1 million by 2010-11 -- that must be taken out of the athletics operating budget.

This puts new perspective on one of the goals Sterk has had since coming to WSU: Securing increased donations from alums and supporters to endow more athletic scholarships. Every endowned scholarship means that much less money has to come out of the operating budget to pay for them. Right now, for example, just 20 of WSU's 85 football scholarships are endowed by donors. All of USC's scholarship are endowed and roughly 50 to 70 are at each of the other Pac-10 schools.

STERK REITERATED MONDAY that no sports will be dropped in 2009-10 because of budget pressures. He also said he hopes none are dropped in 2010-11, but he added, "I can never say never."

Sterk said baseball, one of WSU's most successful sports going back to the 1930s, is safe. Due to the extensive schedule and travel costs associated with baseball, the sport has often been dropped by colleges looking to save money. "There's been no talk of baseball at all as far as being cut," Sterk said.

Sterk said some of the estimated 370 jobs being eliminated throughout the university will involve athletics, "but we don't know how many." Sterk said some of the positions to be cut will be part-time jobs.

STERK SAID THE Pac-10 Conference has been studying the possibility of more widespread revenue sharing for years and continues to look into the matter. He said he wants to gather more information to see if such a plan would benefit Washington State.

Equal sharing of football television revenue would have provided the Cougars with more than $1 million beyond the league-low amount they made last season (in excess of $3 million).

Washington athletic director Scott Woodward is a proponent of revenue sharing and would like it to include rivalry football games. Football revenue is presently distributed fairly evenly from Pac-10 games, but a different system is used for splitting profits at rivalry games.

That benefits the Cougars and hurts the Huskies during the Apple Cup, since Washington's Husky Stadium seats more than twice as many fans as WSU's Martin Stadium. The Huskies said they received less than half as much money from the Cougars at last year's game in Pullman ($443,371) as WSU made from the 2007 Apple Cup in Seattle ($1.1 million).

Asked if he's interested in altering the Apple Cup distribution plan, Sterk said, "Obviously, I don't want any change from that without something else occurring."

Sterk said talks have not been revived about a proposal to temporarily move the Apple Cup at to Seattle's Qwest Field. The Huskies' demand for more than half the tickets (in order to accommodate all UW season-ticket holders) halted negotiations on Qwest games that would have paid both schools handsomely.

Sterk said the Cougars aren't impacted by state budget cuts and recessions as much as some schools because WSU has a smaller budget ($30 million) and fewer teams than many schools in leading conferences like the Pacific-10.

WSU, contrary to perceptions pushed by state Sen. Ed Murray of Seattle, receives no state tax dollars to fund its 17 teams (editor's note: men's and women's indoor and outdoor track count as four teams). What athletics does share in -- along with every department on campus -- locally produced university revenue derived from student housing, restaurants, etc. That's why budget cuts to the broader university still affect athletics even though zero tax dollars flow to athletics.

WSU president Elson Floyd, who had tentatively planned to reveal details of the 2009-10 school budget on Monday, pushed back the planned announcement to June 16. The new budget goes in effect July 1.

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