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Originally published February 27, 2014 at 4:48 PM | Page modified February 28, 2014 at 11:33 AM

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Editorial: Turns out the UW athletic department is not ‘self-sustaining’

In light of state budget pressures and widening profit margins for the UW athletic department, a decades-old policy of subsidizing sports merits a review.

Seattle Times Editorial

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AS recently as 2011, University of Washington athletic director Scott Woodward claimed to be running “a self-sustaining athletic department accepting no funding from our university.” The boast has been repeated dozens of times, for decades.

Repetition doesn’t make it true.

In fact, UW athletics has received millions a year from the university. The subsidy was $3.3 million last year, even as Husky athletics posted a net profit of nearly $9 million.

The subsidy, reported by The Seattle Times’ Lewis Kamb, is rooted in a worthwhile idea — to encourage women’s sports at state universities. Under a decades-old state law, the UW can waive up to 1 percent of its total tuition revenue in pursuit of gender equity in sports.

Regardless of the law’s virtues, a review is appropriate in the modern era of intercollegiate sports.

The UW’s athletic budget, fattened by a lucrative new TV contract and renewed success on the football field, is projected to rise to $112 million by 2016-17. The subsidy, in that context, can be seen as unnecessary budget dust.

Equally, the impact of the federal Title IX, which mandates gender equity in sports, has opened more opportunities for female athletes today than in 1989, when the state tuition waivers were created.

Success, of course, is not guaranteed. College athletic revenues wax and wane. Washington State University’s athletic budget has run red for three straight years, making it more dependent on a subsidy to sustain an array of sports.

The UW makes the case that subsidies ensure a healthy reserve, maintain elite facilities and provide a cushion for future down cycles. The UW argues that some competing schools received deeper subsidies and removing the tuition waivers could put it at a disadvantage.

But those arguments can be made about most elements of the UW, as well as the state budget as a whole. If the subsidy is abolished, there are myriad places to spend $3.3 million.

The pro and con of this policy deserves a full, public airing. A review of state subsidies for college athletics would be a ripe offseason topic for state legislative education committees.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).

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