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Yet another reminder why Cougs need to open their wallets wider for WSU athletics

THREE THOUGHTS STRUCK me after reading The Spokesman-Review story on Sen. Michael Baumgartner’s bill that would allow the state Senate to assume control of athletic budgets at public universities if said budgets at the respective schools are in deficit three consecutive years.

The first reaction: Really bad idea. After all, these guys have had years to figure out K-12 funding and still can’t get it together.

The second reaction: Mike is an astute observer of the business of college athletics and a devout Cougar -- he would never want his alma mater (or the Dawgs for that matter) to be hamstrung in the fight against the rest of the Pac-12.

Which leads to my third observation.

Granted, given a former life long ago in the political world, I tend to look for clues and signals in everything from shoe polish to tie color, so I could be overthinking the matter. But here’s my guess: Baumgartner’s bill isn’t aimed at taking over the athletic departments at WSU, UW, EWU and CWU. It’s aimed at heading off other, far more draconian, proposals being kicked around in the back rooms of Olympia.

A call to Mike for insight – the kind he probably wouldn’t be comfortable sharing anyway – went to voice mail. And while the idea of ringing one of his new aides, Jeremiah Allison, crossed my mind, it seemed a tad out of line to put the old Cougar linebacker on the spot when he’s only been on the job two days.

In The Spokesman-Review article, by Jacob Thorpe, Baumgartner explains the reason for his bill this way:

“College sports play an important role in higher education, but we need to take a closer look at how schools are budgeting for these programs. If they’re persistently underwater in terms of budgeting and over-relying on public subsidy, they need some oversight.”

WSU’s athletic department has spent heavily on facilities in recent years to make up for the decade of neglect inflicted upon it by former WSU President Lane Rawlins.  As a result, WSU athletics – which spends approximately $7 million annually on debt service for facilities investments – has been in deficit spending mode since 2014 and doesn’t expect to hit break even until 2019 at the earliest. In addition to facilities financing, competitive coaching salaries, the nutrition program and the cost-of-attendance stipend for athletes also have increased expenses. Moreover, the gap between the cost of scholarships vs. the funding mechanism for them (the Cougar Athletic Fund) is more than $4 million annually and must be made up through operating funds.

The UW has run similar deficits the last two fiscal years and the outlook there is for more.

Sadly, the Legislature in this state is full of too many amateurs who are more interested in bumper-sticker policy solutions than the real work of governing.

Whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, like him or don’t like him, Baumgartner is not one of those people. To be an elected Republican in this state who freely talks about the importance of tax dollars to support education makes him unique all by itself.

The conclusion here is that Baumgartner’s bill is not designed to be adversarial toward WSU and the others. He’s simply looking at the fiscal realities of publicly funded universities and the high-profile spending in the athletics arms race and suggesting some oversight – oversight that I’m guessing is far less intrusive than what others in his chamber might be thinking.

For Cougar fans, the true bottom line is this: Donate more and purchase season tickets and this type of distraction goes away quickly.


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