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Ferd's Words

UH needs a solution to its growing travel cost dilemma

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When Stan Sheriff was athletic director, he suggested with only a hint of tongue in cheek that the University of Hawaii ought to someday partner with a local airline for use of a plane.

“We’re not getting any closer (to the continent) and airfare won’t be getting any cheaper for our teams or the ones we bring over,” the forward-thinking Sheriff reasoned to state officials.

Even in the 1980s, when UH was regularly packing crowds of 45,000 into Aloha Stadium and balancing budgets, finances were such that Manoa Air was a fantasy unlikely to take off.

Sheriff’s point was that solutions needed to be sought and if it took proposing a jet to get the conversation started, so be it. What Sheriff presumably imagined were seasons like this one in which the Rainbow Warriors will fly record distances and invest record sums in travel from an over-burdened budget.

Consider that the football team will fly more than 41,000 miles for its six appointed road contests — Ohio State, Wisconsin, Boise State, New Mexico, Nevada and Nevada-Las Vegas — spending what UH expects to be nearly $1.6 million for airfare, lodging, etc.

Even with record guarantees from Ohio State and Wisconsin, who are each providing UH with seven-figure paychecks, the athletic department will be hard-pressed to match what it spends on its own football travel and that of its travel-subsidized opponents.

The Buckeyes will pay UH $1.2 million and the Badgers $1.1 million, the two biggest checks in school history — by plenty.

The news of which earlier this year had some UH officials euphorically wondering if the proceeds might underwrite the coming Cost of Attendance stipends. Alas, athletic director David Matlin explained, it would be quickly gobbled up by the dreaded travel subsidy and other commitments.

The Ohio State trip is expected to cost UH $350,978 while the journeys to Wisconsin and Boise State are tabbed to come in at $219,652 and $282,265 respectively, officials said.

Under terms of its 2011 membership agreement with the Mountain West Conference, UH is contracted to provide $625,000 in what is curiously termed “travel cost sharing” this season to bring in four MWC opponents.

Throw in what UH spends to import its nonconference opponents this season, Colorado, UC Davis and Louisiana-Monroe, and there isn’t enough, if anything, left from the Ohio State and Wisconsin bounty to buy a stick of gum.

In good years overall travel costs for the department and the subsidies it funds for Mountain West and Big West amount to athletics’ third biggest expense after salaries and benefits and scholarships. They can account for 14 percent of the budget.

As anybody who has purchased a plane ticket recently knows, fares are escalating. And after this year there are no seasons in which UH doubles up on the $1 million payday games.

In the 22 years since Sheriff’s death the solutions for mitigating UH’s travel challenges, despite abundant promises from school and state officials, are still lacking.

Reach Ferd Lewis at or 529-4820.

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