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The Great Budget Mystery: Examining How The University of Arizona Wildcats Budget is Missing $240 Million and the Impact on Sports Programs

Updated: May 20

University of Arizona Triathlon
Photo from Pat McAfee Show

In early November, it was reported that the University of Arizona Wildcats budget had been miscalculated by a massive $240 Million dollars. How is such a terrible miscalculation possible in a professional setting? Who knows. In the sports world, it then led to reports of athletic teams potentially being cut completely by the athletic department as a way to recoup their massive budgeting mistake. Coupled with the upcoming transfer from the Pac12 to the Big 12, people expected some programs to get cut when the news was initially announced. Whenever athletic sports cuts are mentioned, the Olympic Sports immediately get nervous because historically these are the first few programs to go since they do not bring any revenue to the school. With Title IX laws it usually puts men's swimming, water polo, track & field, and XC at the largest risk. If enough programs get cut then the same sports on the women’s side become at risk. With NCAA Triathlon being a emerging sport, many were wondering if the University of Arizona Women's Triathlon Team could get the short end of the budget cuts and thus eliminate 1 of the 3 Power 5 programs in NCAA Triathlon. Especially due to the fact that NCAA Triathlon took a step backwards in 2023 in regards to compliance and had only 31-34 programs even reach compliance.

In early December, faculty pressed President Robbins for answers on whether the university has drafted a financial plan and he was quoted saying: "So athletics, they are cutting. They are firing people. They are laying off people. 100% they are laying off people". One topic mentioned was potentially selling the entire athletic department to a third party, though he was hesitant that doing so could lead to less control of hiring and potentially more athletic scandals which have plagued University of Arizona in the past. When the financial action plan was actually released, no programs were "cut'. The CFO resigned and part of the primary action plan is: 1. Hiring freeze until at least July 2024.

2. Implement a compensation freeze to include all compensation and pay structure adjustments.

After this year:

3. Eliminate the Tuition Guarantee Program Beginning in the Fall of 2025.

4. Recalibration of Undergraduate Non-Resident Merit Aid Beginning in the Fall 2025. Meaning future students themselves will be punished for the $240 Million miscalculation. Under the Athletics section it states: "Address the financial sustainability of intercollegiate athletics with direct oversight from central administration. The scale of the financial challenges facing our Athletics Department will take multiple years to remedy, given the ever-changing national landscape for collegiate athletics. Work already has begun with our Athletics Department to bolster revenues through ticket sales, maximizing media rights contributions, increasing philanthropy, and reducing costs through centralizing administration functions." As expected, Women's Triathlon is safe for now. However, if the U of A's plan of charging increased ticket prices do not generate the revenue they are seeking, I could see the possibility that multiple athletic programs "potentially" get cut in the upcoming years after they transfer to the Big 12. However, these would most likely be men's programs (and that is a big IF* for that ever happening). While they are historically more of a basketball school, University of Arizona has struggled to get people to attend their football games as shown in the photo below. Will increasing ticket prices help with that if the demand is already low?


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