Arizona interim CFO says athletics responsible for about $35 million of fiscal gap

Jan 25, 2024, 7:55 PM | Updated: Jan 26, 2024, 7:32 am

University of Arizona interim chief financial officer John Arnold told the Arizona Board of Regents at a meeting on Thursday that about $35 million what he said was a $140 million fiscal gap last year came from Arizona athletics.

The university started 2023 with $844 million on hand and ended with $704 million, according to Arnold, and has implemented plans to address overspending, including a hiring freeze and travel restrictions.

Another change Arizona made recently is parting ways with athletic director Dave Heeke.

Heeke announced earlier this month the situation would not lead to cutting any sports programs.

“The national model around college athletics has changed over the last five years,” Arnold said. “As we modernize the University of Arizona athletics department, I think there’s going to have to be a broad community discussion about what do we want out of the University of Arizona’s athletics.

“What do we want out of that experience? What products do we want to provide? And then be realistic about what are the costs to provide those products. We’re gonna make that as cost effective as possible. We’re gonna talk about revenue generation, but we’re also gonna have to be realistic about what is the cost of having a full-blown athletic department are whatever athletic department we decide moving forward.”

The university named its next head football coach only a week before announcing Heeke’s departure, replacing Jedd Fisch with Brent Brennan. Heeke attended Brennan’s introduction.

Former Arizona softball coach Mike Candrea has stepped in as interim athletic director.

The Arizona Board of Regents approved a five-year contract that will pay Brennan $2.7 million next season. The contract will increase each year to $3.6 million in 2027 and includes incentives of up to $1.2 million a year.

The university has come under scrutiny over what was originally projected as a $240 million miscalculation, which led to the resignation of the school’s chief financial officer. ABOR chair Fred DuVal said on Thursday the university’s cost curve is unsustainable without change.

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.

Heeke was hired in February 2017 after he was the AD at Central Michigan University. He oversaw the transition in the men’s basketball program from head coach Sean Miller to Tommy Lloyd in the wake of NCAA violations and corruption investigations.

On the football field, he hired both Kevin Sumlin and Fisch before turning to Brennan, with Fisch turning the program around in three years before leaving for the Washington opening this month.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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