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Saturday, December 20, 2014         

FURTHER REVIEW


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Whatever the spin, it's students who get stuck with the bill

By Dave Reardon

POSTED:



Jim Donovan feels like 2 million bucks today.

That's about how much more money the University of Hawaii athletic department will get each year now that the Board of Regents approved charging each student $50 a semester to help balance the budget Donovan oversees.

The regents' stamp of approval doesn't solve all of his problems. But the fiscal future looks a lot better in Warrior, Rainbow and Wahine land than it did yesterday morning.

Can we say the same for the labs and libraries on the other side of Dole Street? There was a lot of talk about missing chalk and crumbling classrooms and laid off faculty. A lot of talk about priorities.

But after a brilliant presentation by Virginia Hinshaw, the school's chancellor, and Donovan, its athletic director, 11 of the 14 regents agreed with their votes. They were convinced going to games and tailgates is good for the long-term health of the university. Part of the reasoning is students will now get free tickets and actually attend -- and when they're all grown up and rich they'll donate to UH (and not just to athletics) because of their happy memories.

Let's get back to sports, the $30 million-a-year "door of the house," as Donovan and Hinshaw have called it. Enough for now about the house's foundation (no pun intended), the $800 million gorilla in the room -- that little thing called education.

Maybe Donovan can start thinking about eventually filling those 12 empty desks in his lower campus offices. Maybe he won't have more nightmares about cutting a sport like baseball because of the department's accumulated $10 million deficit. Maybe he can fix up the facilities so prospects at least wait until they get on the plane to start laughing.

But there's no maybe about this one: Yesterday's decision marked Donovan's biggest victory in three years as AD at his alma mater.

Think about it. Two million dollars. Every year.

For a program that falls that much more in the red each year, this is a sorely needed boost to the wallet. Before he gets too excited, though, Donovan has to remember he has to pay back upper campus.

Yes, when you break it down, all the money does come out of one pie and athletics has been eating more than its allotted piece. That matters because every check that upper campus has to pick up for athletics means less money for other university programs.

So, in effect, the athletic department will eventually pay the students back with the students' money.

Hinshaw and Donovan said they will work with the students to fine-tune the $100,000 or so in benefits scheduled to get kicked back to them each year. That's nice, but the students have lost what little leverage they had.

There was some passionate, sound and even heart-wrenching testimony by some very intelligent and articulate people yesterday (on both sides of the issue) -- but no real organized protest, no show of force by the students. Did anyone really expect one? The '60s were a long time ago, and the security guards yawned through the long day.

There's no doubt more students will attend games now. But a significant number? "You have to ask me that one in a year," Donovan said. Fair enough.

What about those who will still have no time (spell it "desire" if you want) to go to games, no matter how much money you take from them or their benefactors? Students are older now; many have young children of their own and scrape by working as many jobs as they can find. A hundred dollars a year is a lot of money to a lot of poor students. They don't all live with mommy and daddy and party every night.

Those of us philosophically opposed (or some, anyway) can see the positives in yesterday's outcome. One of the biggest is the athletic department should soon be able to pay back its debt. Donovan must not squander this opportunity. He owes it especially to those students whose meager bank accounts are collateral damage.

Reach Star-Advertiser sports columnist Dave Reardon at dreardon@staradvertiser.com, his "Quick Reads" blog at staradvertiser.com and twitter.com/davereardon.






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