The University of Hawaii is the only member of the Western Athletic Conference and among just a few universities nationwide that lacks a student fee supporting athletic programs. The UH Board of Regents should correct that omission at its meeting today so the university can maintain and improve its competition in major college sports.
Such a fee was proposed more than a year ago as UH athletic director Jim Donovan worried that one or two sports might have to be dropped. The university fields teams in seven men’s sports, 11 for women and coed sailing.
Students naturally don’t want $50 a semester added to fees they now pay to support six chartered student organizations, including the campus newspaper and radio station. Virginia S. Hinshaw, the UH-Manoa chancellor, is asking the regents to begin the fee in January to underwrite scholarships, travel and subsistence, supplies and other expenses "directly beneficial to student-athletes," but not to pay salaries and benefits for the athletic department’s staff.
Most universities have charged such fees for decades. A study several years ago found that fewer than 10 percent of the college athletic departments would be able to operate in the black without them.
In the WAC, semester fees supporting athletic departments range from $2 at Nevada, generating $600,000, to $124 at Idaho, raising $2.2 million. The fee proposed in UH is estimated to bring in $2 million. Such fees allow students to enter UH sports arenas without charge, a common feature of athletic student fees elsewhere.
With Boise State’s scheduled exit from the WAC for the Mountain West Conference, Hawaii will be pressed to find success at the present level in order to gain national attention and take advantage of future opportunities to improve their standing by winning conference championships.
Student athletics is not just about football. It is about baseball, volleyball and myriad other healthful endeavors that discipline bodies and minds, that foster teamwork as well as gender equity.
Many students say they are not interested in attending UH sporting events, but they still stand to benefit from their fees beyond the free tickets to events.
As Hinshaw points out, "A strong, successful athletics program magnifies UH-Manoa’s message – a wonderfully positive message – throughout Hawaii and beyond. That visibility is important to all of us as members of this campus."
A successful program that maintains UH competition at a high level is important to many people who regard the presence of major sports as a necessary ingredient for a place to live. Also, a strong athletic program is an impetus for donations by alumni and other friends of UH. Beyond tapping students, the community at large can help bear cost burdens by attending events.
If, at any time, a population is asked whether it favors raising taxes, a majority will say no, regardless of the solid reasons. That is why legislators make such decisions when the need exists – and why the UH regents should approve the student fee for athletics.