Thursday, November 26, 2015         


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Bill could jeopardize funds for UH athletics

By Ferd Lewis


Somewhere up there, you imagine, the late Stan Sheriff, a former University of Hawaii athletic director, is shaking his head, pawing the clouds and tossing out a few choice words right about now.

Sort of like back in the day when an official would blow a call in a game against Brigham Young.

Except that today's agitation would be reserved for state Senate Bill 120.

The proposal, currently under consideration, would amount to a quarter-century step backward for UH athletics at just about the worst possible time.

In the mid-1980s, Sheriff rolled up his sleeves and got the Legislature to see the wisdom of establishing a revolving fund for handling athletic department finances. It was a long necessary move that gave athletics the flexibility to deal with an operation that, unlike many areas of the vast state bureaucracy, is not suited to a one-size-fits-all model.

It allowed UH to better adapt to the enterprise of college athletics and grow with the times.

You shudder to think where UH might be now without it, or where the Warriors-Rainbow Wahine-Rainbow Warriors-Rainbows will be in even five years if it is taken away this go-round.

By taking aim at 138 so-called special funds of various stripe and intent around the state, SB 120, as written, would put at risk future growth at a time when UH is preparing for its impending moves to the Mountain West and Big West conferences.

The apparent intent of the bill is for the state to recoup idle general funds and cash balances from various nooks and crannies come the end of the fiscal year on June 30 annually. The thought behind the proposal is noble enough in these austere times.

For UH, however, the point where good intentions crash into reality is an expensive juncture and does not figure to result in the return any unspent tax money. Rather, it could cost UH all or a good portion of the $3 million to $3.5 million it annually takes in on the sale of football season tickets.

Currently, football season-ticket proceeds come in late in the spring and are banked in the revolving fund for the fiscal year that starts July 1 and then are used for both budgeted and unforeseen expenses.

But if the revolving account is shut down, then all self-generated monies remaining in the athletic department's hands on June 30 will be swept by the state. UH would either be out the amount or have to beseech the university or state for other funds to replace them.

And, would you really want to leave that up for debate every year?

The expectation of those buying season tickets, especially those who have anted up for premium seating year after year, is that the quality of the football team in particular and the athletic program in general will grow with them.

Sheriff's idea was that monies intended for the development and operation of the athletic department would stay in place for such purposes. In years in which surpluses were turned, they augmented the funds and have seen UH through many an emergency, including the aftermath of 9/11.

The shared vision of Sheriff and past legislatures on the issue has helped take UH a long way, something lawmakers might want to reflect upon before casting it aside now.

Reach Ferd Lewis at

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