Friday, March 06, 2015

Hawaii athletics has a fundamental problem

The expected $3.5 million deficit next year for the UH athletics department is set to continue the trend of underfunding that’s led to a deficit in 11 of the last 13 years, according to a report released by the school earlier this month. 

“It underlines the fundamental problem,” athletics director Ben Jay said. “Structurally, we have not been funded to the level that everybody else is that we compare ourselves to.” 

The schools that UH compares itself to are those in both the Mountain West and Big West conferences. At the request of UH Mānoa Chancellor Robert Bley-Vroman, Jay compared the finances of the department with those other programs and assessed the university’s bottom line for last year and the future.

When the undefeated UH football team played in the Sugar Bowl against Georgia in 2008, the athletic department ended the year in a rare surplus. Although the Warriors fell to the Bulldogs, it marked one of just two times the department ended the year without a deficit in the past decade.

However, through a $4.4 million payout for the high stakes national matchup against Georgia, the success on the field only managed to mask the athletic department’s financial struggles.

“Yes, the Sugar Bowl brought in money, but if we had not been in the 2008 Sugar Bowl, this department would have lost money,” Jay said.

The surplus that year was $295,243, according to the university, meaning that without the selection to a Bowl Championship Series game, the department would have been nearly $4 million in deficit. The following year, it lost over $2.6 million to return to the trend of deficits that stems from underfunding, according to Jay. 

No magic bullet
Football has statistically been the university’s biggest revenue sport, and two of the Warriors’ most successful seasons in the last decade coincided with profitable years for the athletic department. However, Jay said otherwise when asked whether consistent football success and a full Aloha Stadium would solve the department’s “critical” financial state.

“If we had 10,000 more paying fans a game, basically over that seven-game home schedule, you’re probably coming close to $1.4 to $1.5 million,” Jay said. “It just shows you that even 10,000 more fans doesn’t solve the budget deficit.”

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