Another wake-up call for WSU supporters

WASHINGTON STATE'S athletic foundation anticipates a $1.5 million drop in donations for the 2009 fiscal year, which ended Tuesday, says executive director Chris Walker. That's down from a record $8.26 million donated to athletics in the prior fiscal year. While not surprising given the economy's woes, the drop underscores how far behind WSU alums are in giving compared to their Pac-10 brethren.

Even with the record giving to athletics in the 2008 fiscal year, WSU still ranked a distant tenth in the conference in donor support – $4 million less than the conference's No. 9 school (Arizona State).

Walker noted that many schools have seen donations decrease due to the recession. Nonetheless, WSU's drop in 2009 fiscal year donations figures to only maintain the wide disparity at a time when school officials are working hard to narrow it.

Walker said all financial numbers have yet to be recorded, so the books won't be formally closed until July 15.

The drop in dollars donated to WSU athletics corresponded to a notable decline in the number of individual donors – from nearly 6,200 last year to approximately 5,500 this year. That's sobering because it means less than 2 percent of the living alums, friends and supporters in the WSU database are donating to athletics.

Of the $6.76 million WSU athletics raised via donations in the '09 fiscal year, much of it is directed toward scholarships. Walker said the Cougars estimate athletic scholarships for the 2009-10 school year will cost approximately $7 million due to the first of two consecutive years of 14 percent increases in tuition.

"That's going to make it it even more imperative to increase our donor base and increase the amount of donations," Walker said.

Walker, who came to WSU in November from North Carolina-Wilmington, said he has been impressed with the "great spirit and passion" of Cougar fans. He said WSU representatives "need to do a better job of educating" fans about the funding necessary to compete successfully in the Pacific-10 Conference.

"We don't have that one (free-spending) donor like Phil Knight at Oregon," Walker said.

Walker said the Cougars plan to maintain a $30 million athletics budget for the second straight year. That is the smallest budget in the Pac-10 by $14 million.

Earlier this year, a proposal to move some Apple Cup football home games to Seattle's Qwest Field met with strong resistance from many Cougar fans, particularly when it was first announced. Walker said he is unaware of any potential donations lost due to the proposal (which has been dropped, at least for the time being), and that it led to some donations because "it really opened eyes" about financial concerns facing the Cougars.

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