Washington State baseball ended January on a high note after the University’s Board of Regents approved a new $10 million facility for the program.
The project is 100 percent privately funded according to a press release by the athletic department, but many student leaders have since called this message misleading.
“The goal of that messaging by athletics is to assure people that this isn’t a debt situation,” Student Regent Jordan Frost said. “The project is not 100 percent privately funded, because part of what we voted on was to give a $3.5 million loan from the university general budget to the athletic department.”
The proposal states the loan’s interest rate may not exceed 5.5 percent and must be repaid by 2025. Athletics plans to pay this money back with private pledges and donations, but the money at this point is just that – a pledge.
The $3.5 million payback is not yet liquid and in no way is guaranteed. ASWSU Finance Chair and College of Education Senator Hannah Martian believes this financial burden will fall back on the students if pledges are not collected in full.
WSU’s athletic department ended 2018 at $67 million in the hole according to an article by Theo Lawson at the Spokesman Review, but a recent report by KLEW – a local CBS affiliated station in Lewiston – says that number is now closer to $85 million.
“I have a problem with issuing debt to a department that is already in debt from a university that is still in debt,” said Frost.
Head Baseball Coach Marty Lees sees this matter in a whole new light, however. He calls the addition of new facilities a commitment to the program. The project has been dubbed “Back to Omaha” by the athletic department; Omaha, Nebraska – of course – plays host to the College World Series.
“I would argue there is more history to this sport than there is any other sport [at Washington State],” Lees said.
The Cougars last made a post-season appearance in 2010, though Wazzu was once a world beater on the baseball diamond claiming 18 Pac-8/10 titles and a CWS appearance from 1970 to 1990. And dating all the way back to 1913, WSU has had 40 first place finishes in conference play. But while the nostalgia is all good and well by nature, not all are captivated.
“We have other departments on this campus that are currently suffering because of the debt we spent to build our football program up,” Frost said.
Between the $61 million Cougar Complex Building and the new $54 million press box, Frost understands the investment has paid off with unprecedented success on the gridiron. However, he wants to know when the University will start investing in faculty, residents halls, and other major needs by academic departments on campus.
“We need modernized buildings if we want to compete,” Frost said. “Our college of business dean wants a new building and he’s right. If you go look at [University of Washington] and [Arizona State] and some of our competitors, their business facilities are amazing.”
Frost was the only board member to vote against the proposal and says it’s rare for the board to vote no on anything as arguments and disagreement among the discussion period are uncommon.
The building is intended to centralize the programs operations into one location much like the Cougar Football Complex building in the west end zone of Martin Stadium. Until the project’s completion, baseball players will continue to utilize locker rooms in Bohler.
The project breaks ground this summer and is expected to be ready before the 2021 campaign.