Nebraska Athletic Director Bill Moos said the budget he put together was “all above board” at his previous job at Washington State.
Earlier Thursday, an internal audit from the school was released that found extensive mismanagement within the budget-challenged Washington State athletic department, including the possible inflation of home football attendance figures and the improper distribution of free tickets to football games during Moos’ tenure.
“The environment within athletics … did not support a culture of compliance or fiscal responsibility,” according to the audit, which was completed in mid-April.
From a Fiesta Bowl social in Arizona, Moos told The World-Herald the two parts of the audit he saw “that were of question” related to the unused tickets and football attendance numbers.
“As I understand, the findings and possible concerns have to do with comped seats in our club section which were, in my opinion, all above board,” Moos said. “This was an inventory of seats once we built the facility that were not sold so we would utilize those to hopefully market people to get up there from the outer seating bowl. Let them sit up there for a game in hopes that they would end up moving up there full time.”
Some of those seats went to sponsors, car dealers and other donors, Moos said, including those who traveled in from out of town and didn’t own season tickets.
“And also my administrative staff, as long as there was inventory of unused tickets, I allowed them to purchase those at a reduced rate,” Moos said. “As soon as the inventory was complete, then of course the plan was to get full value on them.”
Moos called the padding of attendance numbers a “common practice in the industry of counting sold tickets, whether those (people) actually passed through the gates.”
It wasn’t uncommon, Moos said, for there to be “a good many audits” at his alma mater.
“In the entire time I was at Washington State, there was an audit of some sort,” Moos said. “That’s just kind of their practice. Our blueprint there and our plan was to invest heavily in facility enhancements and coaching upgrades and recruiting. And in order to do that, we had to do promotions and marketings such that are pretty common, really, in the profession.”
Moos said the audit played no factor in his decision to come to Nebraska, but added that many of the marketing strategies he employed at WSU — where he was A.D. from 2010 until last fall — aren’t necessary in Lincoln.
“It’s not a concern at Nebraska because all the seats are sold and we don’t have to pad the attendance because people are there already,” Moos said. “So it’s kind of a luxury. It’s not the norm.”
The document comes as leaders at Washington State grapple with a $67 million athletic budget deficit built up over recent years.
The audit was initially intended to examine the distribution of tickets and passes to Cougar football games to ensure regulations were followed. But it expanded as problems were discovered with contract management, ethics training, attendance data, benefits for athletic department employees and other issues.
The school responded to the audit by saying changes were coming because of the hiring of a new athletic director and other top administrators.
“All aspects of the organization structure of WSU Athletics are being evaluated and will be restructured as appropriate by the new director of athletics,” the university said in its management response to the audit. “A new culture and work climate are already being implemented.”
Pat Chun was hired by school President Kirk Schulz in January to replaced Moos as A.D.
Washington State has the smallest football stadium (32,700 seats) and smallest athletic budget and revenues in the Pac-12. The school spends about $70 million per year on athletics. The department has run a deficit of up to $13 million per year in recent years. The deficit is now down to about $9 million per year and the school is developing a plan to balance the sports budget. The $67 million deficit was largely caused by spending on renovations to Martin Stadium and a new football operations building, and lower-than-expected television revenues.
The audit initially focused on complimentary tickets for a 2016 home football game against Arizona. Auditors determined that the Cougar Athletics Compliance Office did not receive complete information on who got free tickets, a situation which could result in NCAA violations.
In one case, four premium club seats for the Arizona game were given away to “cultivate donors.” But the department was unable to say who received those free tickets, the audit found.
“We put people up there in unused seats to encourage them to purchase seats,” Moos told the Associated Press.
The audit also found:
» Mismanagement in the school’s major marketing contract. Washington State has contracted since 2006 with a company called IMG for sports broadcasting, advertising and marketing.
The audit found the IMG contract was improperly amended, in some cases verbally, by athletics staff. Management of the university agreed the verbal deals were improper. “We used those instances as training opportunities,” the management response said.
» The department was inflating home football game attendance figures. For the 2016 Arizona game, the program reported a near sellout, when only about 26,000 tickets were scanned for entry, the audit said.
Later that season, athletics officials said the annual Apple Cup game against Washington was a sellout, when scanned attendance was only around 27,000. The audit said accurate attendance numbers were important for budgetary and facility planning purposes.
Management responded that not all ticket-buyers showed up for games, and that it had trouble with faulty scanners and errors by temporary staff manning the gates in the past.
“We released attendance as to sold tickets,” Moos said Thursday.
» Potential violations of state law in cases where athletics staff used discounts to upgrade to the premium club seating area of Martin Stadium. Those discounts weren’t offered to the public or to any other university employees, which could make them an illegal special privilege, the audit found.
Auditors calculated that the discounts, in place since 2012, potentially cost Washington State over $130,000 in lost revenue for the 2016 football season.
The audit also discovered that over half of athletics staff who took advantage of the discount in 2016 didn’t fully pay for their seats. The athletics department has since ended the discount.