Confronted with annual $13 million athletic department deficits and declining state support imperiling the future of five of its 29 teams, University of California alumni and fans responded with a "Save Cal Sports" drive.
The success of the five-month, $13 million campaign, which recently gave three sports a seven-year reprieve (baseball and men’s gymnastics will be dropped), has prompted questions about whether something similar might work for other financially strapped programs such as the University of Hawaii.
"Our financial difficulties are not unique" and the solution might not be, either, Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour told the Chronicle of Higher Education.
The UH-Manoa athletic department has run at a deficit eight of the past nine years and carries an accumulated net deficit of nearly $10 million built up over the past decade.
So far UH officials have adamantly ruled out cutting any of the school’s 19 teams.
"I don’t think there is any need to threaten to cut sports so that you can turn around and use that as a fundraising mechanism," said Jim Donovan, UH athletic director. "I don’t think that sends the right message to the student-athletes and coaches of those sports you are threatening."
UH hasn’t dropped a sport since 1985, when it eliminated women’s track so that it could add softball. Track was reinstated in 2000. The last men’s sports to be dropped were track and wrestling in 1977.
UH officials have told the Board of Regents that, because of NCAA, conference and gender equity requirements, it would be unlikely the school could cut enough sports to save a substantial amount of money without risking its Division I status. UH has 11 women’s teams, seven for men and one co-ed squad.
Donovan said, "I think the most prudent thing for us to do is get hold of the annual deficit situation, turn that into the black and use annual revenue to pay down the accumulated debt. And that’s what we’ve been doing."
Donovan said, "The first year I was on board we would have had a $2.4 million deficit if it wasn’t for the Sugar Bowl money. Then, (the deficit) was about $2.2 (million), Last year, it was about $1.6 million, and right now we’re projecting in the neighborhood of $500,000 or less" for the current fiscal year that ends June 30. "So we’re doing exactly what we said we’d do."
Donovan said UH conducted fundraisers to commemorate the 100th year of UH football and will begin another to coincide with the 40th anniversary of women’s sports at UH.
"That’s in addition to all the regular golf tournaments, dinners and fundraisers we have going on annually," Donovan said.
Manoa Chancellor Virginia S. Hinshaw said through a spokesman, "We continually work to generate private support for all of our sports programs and are very grateful for that support, so we are using that approach."
Two years ago Keith Amemiya, then executive director of the Hawaii High School Athletic Association, began a "Save Our Sports" campaign.
Though the project raised $1.4 million to help rescue high school sports and Amemiya now works in the office of the UH Board of Regents, he says there are no plans to operate one for UH.