Key regent says UH football not going away but more money needed

Key regent says UH football not going away but more money needed
Ben Jay
Ben Jay
Bob Cooney
Bob Cooney

MANOA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The chair of the University of Hawaii Board of Regents committee that oversees athletics told Hawaii News Now Monday night he hopes the state will take notice because "We put on the table that running this athletic program doesn't come without cost and commitment."

Attorney Jeff Portnoy is the regent who's in charge of the committee on athletics, but he also knows UH sports as a broadcast commentator on UH basketball for the last 16 years.

Earlier Monday, Ben Jay, the UH athletics director, told Portnoy's committee that UH will need as much as $3 million to erase a deficit in the UH athletic department this year. And that's on top of a $2.1 million sports deficit last fiscal year and another $3.4 million deficit the year before that.

Jay told reporters that in the worst-case scenario, UH would need to cut some of its 21 sports programs, including football.

"I'm asking the state, I said, can you imagine the state without Division One football?" Jay told reporters. "Because the very real possibility is that we'll not be able to fund it right. And we can't keep running the deficits for the university that we are."

Jay says the UH Manoa athletic budget will be at least $1.5 million in the hole this year and may be in the red by as much as $3 million.

Even selling out seats to UH football games -- not likely with the Warriors' 1 and 11 record last year -- would bring in only $500,000 more in revenue.

Portnoy said the public should not be worried that UH football will go away.

Portnoy said UH needs more money from lawmakers and taxpayers, for an athletic budget that's been in the red for 11 of the past 13 years.

"That money has to come from somewhere and what we learned today and what I believe is that it really needs to come from the legislature. Because the other sources that are available are band-aids," Portnoy said.

Even when UH went to the Sugar Bowl in 2007 and its football games were sold out, the athletic budget was still in the red until it received several hundred thousand dollars for its bowl TV appearance, UH officials said.

UH President David Lassner offered to speak to the UH football team as a group Monday afternoon, but Warriors Head Coach Norm Chow declined the offer, sources said.

Through a spokeswoman, Chow declined comment on the situation.

UH football fans who watched football practice late Monday afternoon said UH can't drop its highest-visibility sport.

"That would be so sad, man. I mean, you know, it's been around forever. It would be very unfortunate that that would happen," said Darren Mahoe of Waikiki.

Boogie Kahilihiwa, of Kalaupapa, Molokai, was taking in practice and could not believe that UH officials would even consider ending the football program.

"UH been playing football for a long time and you can have volleyball, basketball, but football is a winner," Kahilihiwa said.

Bob Cooney is a UH public health professor and vice chair of the UH Manoa Faculty Senate.

"I think football and the other sports have done a lot for the university, but the purpose of the university is education. It's not athletics, that's secondary," Cooney told Hawaii News Now, saying he was speaking for himself and not representing the Faculty Senate.

A UH official briefed on the athletic department's chronic deficits said, "You can't win if you're paying for Division One teams to fly here."

UH faces continuing increases in airline travel costs for its own teams and it often pays for its opponents to fly to Hawaii for games.

NCAA rules for the first time require UH to directly pay for meals for athletes in all 21 UH sports after practices and games and no longer rely on scholarship money to do so. That means UH has to come up with another $350,000 in funds to pay for those meals this year, UH officials said.

UH athletic staff and coaches have been given a four percent raise this year, because of union pay hikes, raising the cost of personnel.

Athletics scholarships, tuition bills and campus housing costs are all going up as well, adding to the athletic department's budget woes, officials said.

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