University of Arizona: No immediate plans to eliminate sports amid financial crisis

Jan 11, 2024, 12:59 PM

Arizona Wildcats AD Dave Heeke...

University of Arizona Wildcats Director of Athletics Dave Heeke speaks during the 2021 Final Four banner unveiling ceremony after a basketball game between the Texas Southern University Tigers and the University of Arizona Wildcats on November 15, 2021 at McKale Center in Tucson, AZ. (Photo by Christopher Hook/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

(Photo by Christopher Hook/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Arizona Wildcats athletic director Dave Heeke in a letter posted to the school’s website on Thursday said UA has “no immediate plans” to eliminate sports programs in the wake of the university’s $240 million budget shortfall.

Arizona responded to that crisis with plans to manage finances at a school-wide level during a December Arizona Board of Regents meeting, but questions about the athletic department’s role in making due had not been specifically addressed.

In his letter, Heeke outlined the success of Jedd Fisch’s football team, which finished No. 11 in The Associated Press media poll, and that of the men’s basketball program to start the 2023-24 season.

He laid out bullet points of an action plan that will help the Wildcats’ athletic department save money and improve revenue streams.

At this point in time, I want to share the key components of our plan which is in alignment with our campus partners and the structure of the University of Arizona’s Financial Action Plan.

• Arizona Athletics has no immediate plans to eliminate sports
• The athletics department will continue the hiring freeze that it instituted this fall
• All new major construction projects will be paused after the completion of the William M. “Bill” Clements Golf Center
• Budgets have been pared back in areas that do not impact the health and wellbeing of student-athletes

Our plan also includes the growth of key revenue streams and areas of investment.

• Increase ancillary revenue from multimedia rights agreement, facility usage and other areas
• Comprehensive look at enhancing ticketing revenue through market-driven pricing
• Strategically invest in our marquee programs that generate substantial revenue
• Continue to build on record-breaking fundraising efforts by creating new opportunities for donor engagement and support

To address its own $240 million budget shortfall, the University of Arizona unveiled an extensive financial recovery plan in December.

In a virtual meeting with the Arizona Board of Regents, university President Robert Robbins announced the resignation of the school’s chief financial officer and other steps to address cash flow issues.

“We will implement an immediate hiring freeze,” Robbins said. “We will freeze international travel. We will place restrictions on purchasing. We will defer nonessential capital projects and we will pause strategic investments.”

Robbins ticked off a number of things that led to the current situation, including a decentralized budgeting allocation process, an ineffective administrative structure, overspending and poor budget controls.

The university, which has nearly 50,000 enrolled students, fell 30 days short of the 140 days cash on hand the state Board of Regents required in the fiscal year that ended in June 2023 — a sign that its expenditures were outpacing revenues. The university forecasted 97 days cash on hand for the fiscal year that ends in June.

Robbins said the hiring and compensation freeze will save the university $16 million, the immediate purchasing restrictions will save $5 million and deferring nonessential capital projects should save $9 million.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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