HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - University of Hawaii leaders Thursday asked lawmakers for $6 million over the next two years to help the financially struggling university athletic department try to balance its books.
UH athletics officials predict a $3.5 million deficit this year at a department that has been in the red 12 of the last 15 years.
"We do need additional support for athletics," UH Manoa Chancellor Robert Bley-Vroman told the State House Higher Education Committee Thursday.
UH asked lawmakers for two years worth of two mandatory expenses: $3.4 million for the gender equity costs of women's sports and $2.6 million to help cover the travel costs of its opponents, as required in its agreements with the two athletic conferences to which UH belongs.
"I'm trying to think of a way that we can make athletics somehow sustainable. And I think it will require a partnership between us, the legislature, more external support," Bley-Vroman said.
One new lawmaker took issue with the high costs of travel subsidies.
"The cost seems to be really outrageous when you consider the sorts of things that are under funded at the university throughout the system," said State Rep. Matthew Lopresti.
But the outgoing UH Athletic Director Ben Jay said UH has no choice, because the conferences wouldn't allow UH to join them without covering their travel costs to Hawaii.
"We are the only institution in the country who are paying travel subsidies to our own conference teams," Jay told lawmakers.
UH says Hawaii taxpayers and student fees subsidize a much smaller portion of its athletic budget compared to its competitors.
In the Mountain West football conference, UH ranks 9th out of 12 schools with just a 40 percent subsidy compared to San Jose, where 68 percent of the athletic budget is subsidized.
And in other sports, UH ranks last out of 9 Big West schools with its 40 percent subsidy, while UC Riverside gets 89 percent of its sports budget from outside the athletic department.
"Hawaii athletics is important to the university but it is essentially important to the Hawaii community itself," Bley-Vroman said. "The university doesn't itself have a solution. I think that's important to make that clear. Athletics really is a state-level problem. Not problem, opportunity. It's a cool thing. We like it."
UH President David Lassner told lawmakers, "It's not possible for UH to continue to fund the athletic department deficit."
Lassner and Bley-Vroman said they will not increase tuition and fees to solve the financial problems of the UH athletic department.
"We are looking for solutions, not just handouts," Lassner said. "Athletics is clearly important to this community. It's a source of pride."
Bley-Vroman said this year's predicted $3.5 million sports department deficit is made worse because UH fell short of both its football ticket sales goal and its sports fundraising goal.