UW athletic department expects a surprising surplus for 2017

The department had projected a deficit of $5.6 million, but instead expects a surplus of about $2,000 when the fiscal year ends this month.

By the end of June, when the 2017 fiscal year comes to a close, the University of Washington athletic department expects to have a surplus of about $2,000.

That sum is, in the overall scope of things, mostly immaterial for an athletic department with revenues of $125 million. Having $2,000 in major college athletics is like the average person finding a couple of pennies under the couch cushions.

Consider, though, where UW was just a year ago, when the athletic department was projecting a 2016 deficit of nearly $15 million. To get to what is essentially a break-even point now is a major turnaround for a department that was in “triage mode” with its budget when athletic director Jennifer Cohen stepped into the role 18 months ago.

“Every decision we made,” Cohen said, “was built around our ability to increase revenues, manage expenses and align. So to be able to go into this year with a projected deficit and cut that and operate with cash flow this year is significant.”

UW ended up with a deficit of about $7.6 million in 2016, and in June 2016 the athletic department was bracing for another loss — projected at $5.6 million — in 2017.

The outlook has changed dramatically.

Football drives the bus

When Cohen was named interim AD in January 2016, the athletic department didn’t have a chief financial officer — the previous CFO stepped down abruptly months earlier — and there were strict department-wide restrictions on spending.

“We had a bunch of people managing it here in triage mode without a lot of support,” she said. “We made a lot of tough decisions during that time. … We cranked down on a lot of…

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