Bill Moos, Patrick Chun and Kirk Schulz (Photo: WSU & Cougfan.com/Haugh)

THE ACCUMULATED debt incurred by Washington State’s athletic department has attracted considerable attention in recent months but USA Today took it to the next level last week with a story that included emails on the matter — secured via public-records request — between Kirk Schulz, Bill Moos and others within WSU.

Washington State’s budget challenge in athletics — projected to grow to a cumulative $84.9 million by the end of the 2023 fiscal year —  wasn’t the focal point of USA Today’s article (Is overspending catching up to these Power 5 schools?), but it was the peg around which the topic was broached.

Here are some excerpts relative to the WSU portions of the article:

“Understand the magnitude of the problem,” WSU vice president Stacy Pearson wrote in an (August 2017) email to Bill Moos. WSU’s athletic director last year. “Athletics has by far the largest cumulative deficit than all other campus areas combined … The entire university has to work to reduce this deficit, and it can’t be done if Athletics continues to spend millions into deficit each year. I obviously have come to understand your challenges, but you simply must make progress to reduce these deficits.”

The story says Moos responded by forwarding the message to President Schulz and requesting a meeting. Schulz then replied: “Let’s meet. As you are aware, the university is simply running out of money and we have lost virtually (all) of our financial flexibility. I delivered a similar message to the medical school.”

Since then, Moos has left for Nebraska and the Cougar athletic department announced a month ago that it is implementing a budget management plan that will narrow annual deficits steadily until achieving slightly above break even in FY 2024. The expense side of the ledger in WSU athletics is widely considered pretty tight right now so the plan is — rightly — heavily reliant on boosting revenue through increased donations, improved media rights payouts and a hoped-for increase in student fees.

All that makes sense. What has not been stated clearly by WSU leaders is this: the deficit spending of recent years is driven largely by the debt service on the massive investment in facilities for football that was needed to make up for the previous two decades of neglect.

As we’ve stated on these pages before, the Cougar Football Complex and Martin Stadium renovation were long overdue and set the table for WSU to complete in the Pac-12 long term. These investments — as well as those in coaches, nutrition and more — were critical in order for WSU to compete with the rest of the conference. And don't forget: success in athletics -- especially in the one sport, football, that underwrites virtually every other sport except men's basketball -- is the biggest and best marketing tool a major university has at its disposal.

That message is one you almost exclusively find on Cougfan.com. Granted, Schulz and new AD Patrick Chun are in delicate positions — needing to address the budget challenges while being mindful of alums, faculty and others in the community who are critical of athletics — but their sheepishness to make a declarative statement about what these deficits have yielded (namely, relevance in the Pac-12 after two decades of facilities neglect) means they’re permitting a one-sided PR narrative.

The $69 million in accumulated debt so far, and the $84 million it will be by the time the budget is balanced, was not money flushed down the toilet. It was money that made up for years of sticking to the status quo and now sets Cougar football on course for years of continued success.