/ Modified dec 5, 2023 4:08 p.m.

UA athletics faces layoffs, ticket price surge amid financial strain

President Robert Robbins said ticket prices may increase by 25%.

University of Arizona Athletics, Basketball, McKale Center, Wilbur Wilbur the Wildcat waves a UA "Block A" flag before an exhibition match between the University of Arizona men's basketball team and Chico State on Nov 5, 2017.
AC Swedbergh / AZPM

University of Arizona President Dr. Robert Robbins said there will be layoffs in athletics and ticket price increases during a faculty senate meeting Monday night.

“So athletics, they are cutting. They are firing people. They are laying off people. 100% they are laying off people,” Robbins said. “But if you have season tickets in basketball or football, it’s going to cost you about 25% more and I don’t think that’s enough because if we look at our peers, we’re probably 30 years behind in increasing prices.”

The announcement came after faculty pressed Robbins for answers on whether the university has drafted a financial plan.

In November, the university characterized its financial health as "fragile" after U of A leaders shared with the Arizona Board of Regents that they are falling behind on their required days cash on hand. When the university’s financial crisis was announced, officials had forecasted 156 days cash on hand, but now forecast 97 days by fiscal year 2024. At the time of the Nov. 2nd ABOR meeting, Robbins said the miscalculation was due to an outdated financial model that has since been replaced.

During Monday’s faculty senate meeting, Robbins told faculty that the university has “a fundamental problem that we’re spending more than we have revenue.” He said part of UA’s financial issues come from initiatives like tuition discounting and investments in athletics.

“I think the loans that have been given to athletics is about $87 million in the last several years,” Robbins said.

According to Robbins, the recent loans have not been paid back.

“I will continue to say that athletics is the most vexing problem for me to come up with a plan for,” Robbins said.

All options are being explored when it comes to funding athletics, including separate foundations and investments in private equity, Robbins said. But other concerns arise from that.

“There have been concerns about are we giving up control on managing or preventing scandals,” Robbins said. “We've had a lot of scandals in athletics, even with oversight. Would that get worse, get better? Probably not gonna get better.”

Robbins said there are about $87 million in loans to the athletic department beginning in 2018. He said the first one was to cover the cost of getting rid of a coach.

“The first one started with an $8 million loan to pay out one of the fired coach’s contracts,” Robbins said. “I think all of that has been paid off, or at least getting toward it at about $500,000 a year to pay back that loan.”

Robbins did not name the coach specifically, but in January 2018 the university fired head football coach Rich Rodriguez after an investigation into allegations of a hostile workplace including allegations of sexual harassment. A notice of claim related to those charges was also filed before Rodriguez was fired.

The president also expressed concern over academic performance if athletics is separated from the university's financial books.

“I think that all of the foundations that I've looked at at other universities have oversight from certainly the senior leadership over this foundation.”

Robbins, along with other senior leadership, is expected to announce a plan to the Board of Regents by December 15th. So far, Robbins has promised to faculty and staff that there will be no cuts to retirement and no furloughs, according to a November email he sent. In that same email, Robbins said no decisions about any budget cuts or related issues had been made at that point.

“The University is not in financial jeopardy, but new budget controls must be implemented to prevent deficit spending in the future,” Robbins said in the Nov. 22nd email.

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