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UH might be forced to cut a sport


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POSTED: Friday, February 20, 2009

Hard times require hard choices. The Hawaii athletic department isn't quite there, but given the realities of the current economic climate, there may come a time where a sport or two might have to be cut.

UH athletic director Jim Donovan wants to avoid making that drastic decision while trying to balance the fiscal needs of the state's lone Division I sports program. UH now offers seven men's sports, 11 for women and coed sailing.

Yesterday, Donovan got a vote of confidence from the UH Board of Regents committee on university audits. The committee recommended acceptance of the athletic department's financial statement, with the report forwarded to the Board of Regents for approval at today's monthly meeting.

The athletic department is looking at a $5.4 million cumulative debt as of the end of the fiscal year last June 30. But thanks in part to the $2 million plus earned by the football team's appearance in the 2008 Sugar Bowl, the department did not run at a deficit for the 2007-08 budget.

“;I do feel we are progressing,”; UH president David McClain said. “;We're doing very well under Jim's leadership. He understands Hawaii, the university and the business end of athletics.

“;Sports is an important front porch for the university. With no professional teams, we have a special responsibility to Hawaii. Our athletes are Hawaii's stars.”;

But running the department comes at a price. Of the $29.5 million budget, $25 million goes to salaries, team travel, recruiting and scholarships.

“;We're not spending frivolously,”; said Donovan, who took over the department last March. “;We don't want to cut a sport, but it may become a fiscal reality at some point. But it will only be done as the last resort.”;

Donovan said it would have to be a men's sport because of gender-equity concerns.

“;We talk about self-sufficiency, but I am not sure we can ever be completely self-sufficient. There's a lot of revenue leakage that other athletic departments get to keep that we don't. If we don't get those revenue sources, we'll keep running at a deficit. The definition of business insanity is to keep doing the same things over and over, and expect different results. It's a disconnect.”;

The athletic department does not retain any revenue from parking or concessions at sports events. Those are among the “;revenue leakage”; to which Donovan alluded.

Another proposal being revisited is an assessment of a student-activities fee, a portion of which would go to the athletic department.

“;When one of my daughters went to (the University of Colorado), I saw the list of student fees,”; McClain said. “;I'm not saying we have to emulate everything other schools do, but it's worth paying attention.”;

Various forms of a student activity fee have been presented to the UH student senate over the past several decades, each time being voted down. The effort has been made by the athletic department to boost student attendance at events, including free admission this season to men's volleyball.

McClain compared attendance figures for the five theaters in the UH system to those at athletic events in pointing out the impact sports has on the community. He said that annually 150,000 attend events at the theaters as opposed to 700,000 for sports.

“;The audit showed that there are some concerns, that we have to understand how we got to where we're at,”; Donovan said. “;The good thing is the committee understands how bad the economics are.

“;What would help us the most? Parking revenue, concessions ... all of those would help make it easier to start paying off some of the accumulated debt. If it hadn't been for the Sugar Bowl and the Ching Foundation, we would have been in a deficit.”;

The Clarence T.C. Ching Foundation committed $5 million over five years to the athletic department. However, those funds are a specified endowment that cannot be used to pay down the debt.