The University of Hawaii projects a combined $1.1 million-$1.2 million annual price tag for travel cost sharing when it joins the Mountain West and Big West conferences in 2012, officials said.
But they estimate that costs could be balanced out by a combination of savings in UH’s travel as well as improved rights fees and ticket sales.
"It could be a wash," said Jim Donovan, UH athletic director.
Terms call for UH to pay a maximum of $150,000-$175,000 for each of the four MWC football opponents who come to Aloha Stadium, depending upon which time zones they come from.
Meanwhile, UH will pay approximately $500 per person for Big West teams in men’s and women’s basketball, baseball, softball, women’s volleyball, soccer and water polo and other sports to come here.
Donovan said he believes the costs will be mitigated in part by UH’s sports other than football being able to fly to Los Angeles or Sacramento rather than Ruston, La.
Moreover, Donovan said he expects UH would have taken a significant hit on its ESPN contract in the new, watered-down WAC and ticket sales would severely drop. With more familiar MWC and Big West opponents, especially in football, baseball and women’s volleyball, he hopes for a rise in ticket sales.
Once known as "travel subsidies," UH and its new conference partners have taken to referring to them as "travel cost sharing."
By whatever name, they were set-in-stone conditions of membership in both the MWC and Big West, whose members were unwilling to assume the additional cost themselves, members of those leagues say. UH’s pledge to underwrite travel was "important" to its MWC bid, San Diego State President Stephen Weber told the Star-Advertiser.
Moreover, the MWC was willing to consider UH solely as a football-only member becuse of travel.
Because of its geographic separation, UH has historically paid travel fees in the leagues it has belonged. UH subsidized its opponents’ travel in the WAC from its 1979 entry until the mid-1990s as a prerequisite to membership. Likewise, it paid the fees from 1985 to ’95 in the Big West for its women’s teams.
Until the WAC expanded to 16 teams, for example, UH paid for 65 roundtrip tickets from the West Coast for conference football opponents and 18 in men’s basketball and other sports provided they did not make use of the so-called "Hawaii Exemption," an NCAA policy that permitted an extra contest.
The mounting cost of unreimbursed travel to Hawaii was one reason cited for not including UH when the MWC was formed in 1999 by eight renegade members from the old WAC — Air Force, Brigham Young, Colorado State, New Mexico, Nevada-Las Vegas, San Diego State, Utah and Wyoming.
In the Big West, opponents received a flat $4,500 per team for women’s volleyball, basketball and softball teams. A Big West request for enhanced travel subsidies in 1991 helped put UH on the road to the WAC in women’s sports.
Whether or not visiting teams take advantage of the "Hawaii Exemption," they will receive subsidies under the new deals.
For MWC football teams, the numbers are set to approximate the cost of a charter flight for a travel party of up to 130 people. The roster limit for MWC football travel squads is 64 players, with the remainder made up of coaches, support staff, broadcasters and officials.
MWC opponents from the Pacific Time Zone — Fresno State, Nevada, UNLV and San Diego State — would have the $150,000 ceiling, while foes from the Mountain or Central time zones would receive up to $175,000, according to an agreement in principle.
If UH can demonstrate a cheaper fare, it can negotiate a lower cost. UH has offered opponents in both the MWC and Big West an option to book travel themselves under the agreed-upon ceilings or to have UH book it for them though a designated travel agency, assuming responsibility for the cost.
Donovan said he believes UH’s travel partner, with its experience, can operate under the ceilings.
Big West Commissioner Dennis Farrell said, "There are probably a pretty good number that will opt for the Hawaii booking option."
UH paid nearly $100,000 in airfare to bring USC here for the 2010 season and will pay nearly $150,000 to bring Tulane in from New Orleans for a nonconference game in 2011.
The size of travel squads UH will be responsible for underwriting will be determined by NCAA postseason standards plus a total of six coaching or staff members, Farrell said.
Both the MWC and Big West have agreed to revisit the cost ceilings on a biennial basis, officials said.
Panda Travel is UH’s current travel partner, although that contract will be up for renegotiation prior to 2012.