Baumgartner: University athletic budgets in persistent deficit subject to Senate approval

If they can’t get their books straight, college sports programs would be subject to Senate committee approval under a new bill from Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane. Baumgartner proposes that a college athletics budget that runs in the red for three consecutive years will have to submit their budget for review and approval.

“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,” said Baumgartner, chair of the Senate Commerce, Labor and Sports Committee. “If they’re persistently underwater in terms of budgeting and over-relying on public subsidy, they need some oversight.”

Under Baumgartner’s bill, once a college sports program has run into deficits for three consecutive years, its budget must be reviewed and approved by the Commerce, Labor and Sports Committee before being adopted by the college. Repeated issues with mismanaged budgets at University of Washington and Washington State University prompted the push for greater oversight.

Last year, the UW athletic department reported a nearly $15 million deficit, the second year in a row it has projected a deficit. WSU has reported an average $13 million annual deficit since 2014.

“I’m a big fan of college athletics, but I have no doubt much of the public would appreciate a timeout on the arms race of college athletics spending,” said Baumgartner. “This is about ensuring the long-term viability of these programs that give our state’s students so many opportunities. This bill gives our state’s universities a three-year runway from today to get their budgets balanced, and if they can’t do it, my committee will help do it for them.”