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Wherever it lands, UH must pony up travel subsidies

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Remember that controversial student athletic fee adopted by the University of Hawaii last month, the $1.85 million windfall designed to help the athletic department take a big step toward solvency?

Poof!

Even before athletics gets its hands on so much as a nickel of it, the money might as well have been spent. It is, like a lot of other things, a soon-to-be collateral casualty of the Western Athletic Conference’s breakup.

In whatever direction UH moves — remaining in the pillaged WAC, wandering into the abyss of independence, joining a new conference or some chop suey combination thereof — one thing is becoming assured: The price of poker is going up for the nation’s most geographically isolated major college program.

Talk about sticker shock. Apart from the loss of prestige and old rivalries, there will be a considerable financial hit for UH, too. Wherever it lands.

You don’t have to have been privy to UH’s exploratory conversations with the Big West Conference and West Coast Conference to imagine the issue of travel costs found its way onto the tables, pronto.

Call them travel subsidies, stipends or guarantees, the fact is it is going to be tough to find anybody willing to regularly put their soccer, tennis, swimming, golf or softball teams on planes here without some help.

Schools in California have been cutting sports, so they aren’t going to welcome the expenses of UH membership with open arms. An open wallet by UH, perhaps.

The scary thing is that UH, which does not currently pay travel subsidies in the WAC, could find itself forced to ante up even if it stays put. That’s if it expects to have any company in the WAC.

"What about travel?" is going to be one of the first questions posed by expansion candidates from Texas or Montana about membership in a conference that stretches from Honolulu to Ruston, La.

Schools with half the operating budgets of UH’s $27.6 million, as is the case of many of the schools the WAC will have to consider for expansion, aren’t going to have the inclination to spend it on travel. Not when, as Football Championship Series members, they will have to add 22 scholarships and a couple of women’s sports just to reach NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision status.

Then, there is the case of the Mountain West. In beseeching those schools, travel subsidies have to be one of the first things out of athletic director Jim Donovan’s mouth, right after, "Hi, I’m from the University of Hawaii …"

Like the victim of a holdup, he won’t be able to say, "we’ll pay, we’ll pay…" fast enough.

Not that it will necessarily guarantee anything.

The most perilous course would be the Warriors going independent, forced to cough up guarantees to get opponents over here.

UH will pay guarantees to bring three nonconference teams in this year, it could more than double that in 2011 or ’12. Not a comforting thought for a school already sitting on a $10 million deficit

Meanwhile, UH could find itself trying to sell tickets, attract pay-per-view customers and secure sponsorships and media rights for teams few have heard of or cared little about in order to pay the bills.

Far from being an assurance of solvency, that impending $1.85 million might be just part of the down payment on the new price of staying in business.

Reach Ferd Lewis at flewis@staradvertiser.com.

 

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