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Early signs: UH athletics turning financial corner

By Ferd Lewis

LAST UPDATED: 10:23 p.m. HST, Aug 5, 2011

For the moment, statements from the University of Hawaii athletic department are largely being couched in phrases such as "the numbers are trending ..." and "it is still early, but ..."

In running the budget numbers for the fiscal year that ended Thursday, it is almost as if the department is afraid it will jinx what it expects to be only the second in-the-black finish in 10 years.

But, then, maybe when you are accustomed to the years of financial lickings UH has suffered you are understandably wary of declaring a profit until every last cent has been counted and recounted.

If, indeed, the department turns a profit, it will be an accomplishment in the financial arena that stands with some of the better on-the-field triumphs of late.

Only through the Sugar Bowl season of 2007, helped by a then-record payment to a non-Bowl Championship Series school of $4.4 million, has UH turned a profit since 2001. So, athletic director Jim Donovan's admission to the Aloha Stadium Authority of a "very good chance to be the in black" was the most public acknowledgement yet that UH expects to finally balance its annual books and some of the best news to come out of the lower campus in ages.

If the financial projection holds up, it would be a considerable accomplishment, especially in light of the forecast heading into the fiscal year of as much as a $900,000 deficit.

Through improvements at the gate in baseball, football and men's basketball, coupled with approximately $740,000 in student-athletic fees, Western Athletic Conference revenues and some determined cost containment, UH has gotten to the point where it can talk about balancing its nearly $30 million budget.

That is no easy accomplishment anywhere in sports in this day and age, especially at a university that pays a high premium for its geographic isolation and is among the non-BCS schools who lack the lucrative bowl and TV windfalls of their well-heeled automatic qualifying conference competitors.

According to an NCAA study released last month, only 18.3 percent of the athletic departments at the 120 schools who play major college football made money in 2010. At the 98 who didn't, the median deficit in 2010 was $11.6 million.

Closer to home, Nevada was reporting the possibility of as much as a $1.5 million deficit for the just-completed fiscal year, while Fresno State was looking to cut some scholarships as a cost-saver.

Once upon a time UH balanced its books regularly -- and with little fanfare. The impact of 9/11 gave UH its first accumulated net deficit, $296,719. Then, free-spending administrations and some hard times on the field and courts progressively deepened the red ink.

Well, "business" is looking up after some dark days to the point the athletic department is nearing a milestone worthy of its own cheers.

Reach Ferd Lewis at

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