Arizona AD Reed-Francois: Financial shortfall not ‘incredibly unique’

Feb 20, 2024, 10:56 AM | Updated: 12:55 pm

Arizona Wildcats director of athletic Desiree Reed-Francois is introduced...

Arizona Wildcats director of athletic Desiree Reed-Francois is introduced on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024. (Screenshot)


University of Arizona director of athletics Desiree Reed-Francois on Tuesday said she departed her similar position at Missouri because it was an “opportunity to come home.”

She also said the financial challenges she faces in leaving an SEC school for the Wildcats, who are entering the Big 12, aren’t “incredibly unique” even though her predecessor was fired amid a schoolwide budget shortfall that is further limiting the athletic department.

“I haven’t met very many athletic departments that say, ‘Hey, we’ve got so much money we don’t know what to do with it,'” Reed-Francois told reporters in Tucson. “This is not a problem that’s incredibly unique, but what we have to do is just be very diligent in our approach and very thoughtful. Let’s listen and let’s learn and let’s analyze, put together the best plan and move forward.”

Reed-Francois takes over for Dave Heeke, who was fired last month.

President Dr. Robert Robbins said in December that the athletic department borrowed $55 million from the school during the COVID-19 pandemic, adding to a larger budget issue at the school-wide level. The school has since announced a general plan to pull out of the hole, starting with raised ticket prices but committing to keep all of the current sports teams.

Reed-Francois reiterated on Tuesday that there are no plans to cut any of the school’s sports programs.

A graduate of Arizona’s law school in 1997, Reed-Francois often cited the men’s basketball title that same year for showing her the power of support for the Wildcats. She added that the challenges and opportunities coming from those challenges will help her navigate her new job.

First up is attacking the budget problems that will require analysis and changing old protocols and processes.

“I’ve learned that Desiree is very competitive,” Robbins said. “There are some structural issues that I think we’ve discussed. It’s fairly nuanced but there’s some things I think will help with athletics that have been costs in the past that I think we can work with her to correct going forward.”

Reed-Francois said that she is a fan of surveys — fans and student-athletes can expect to receive those surveys so she can better learn the current state of the program.

“I’m really big on listening. I haven’t been to a Wildcat football game … (since) 1997. I have a lot of listening to do,” she said.

Reed-Francois was credited with pulling Missouri above water in budget surplus with a knack for fundraising. She took over in 2021 after a run from 2017-21 at UNLV that saw her push through funding for a new football stadium.

Prior, the UCLA and Arizona graduate oversaw the football team at Virginia Tech (2014-17) and had stops at Cincinnati (2013-14), Tennessee (2008-12) and five different schools in California.

As for why she jumped to the desert from the SEC:

“It’s home. Just quite simply it’s home,” she said. “I got a little bit emotional at the podium because this is a heart move. This is a move that I know what the University of Arizona can be. I know there are challenges. … My skillset meets what I believe the University of Arizona needs at this time, this very important time.

“It just felt right. It was an opportunity to come home.”

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