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Ferd Lewis: University of Hawaii could face steep financial challenges

JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                The Stan Sheriff Center has been closed since the University of Hawaii suspended its sporting events on March 12 in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM

The Stan Sheriff Center has been closed since the University of Hawaii suspended its sporting events on March 12 in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

BRUCE ASATO / BASATO@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                University of Hawaii Athletics Director David Matlin, left, and President David Lassner, right, welcomed new UH football coach Todd Graham, on Jan. 21. When Graham will make his debut on the sideline remains uncertain.
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BRUCE ASATO / BASATO@STARADVERTISER.COM

University of Hawaii Athletics Director David Matlin, left, and President David Lassner, right, welcomed new UH football coach Todd Graham, on Jan. 21. When Graham will make his debut on the sideline remains uncertain.

JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM / NOV. 2019
                                Hawaii quarterback Chevan Cordeiro, above, delivered a throw while being pursued by San Diego State defensive lineman Myles Cheatum during UH’s 14-11 win over the Aztecs on Nov. 23 at Aloha Stadium. Football is one of the UH athletic department’s top revenue generating sports.
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JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM / NOV. 2019

Hawaii quarterback Chevan Cordeiro, above, delivered a throw while being pursued by San Diego State defensive lineman Myles Cheatum during UH’s 14-11 win over the Aztecs on Nov. 23 at Aloha Stadium. Football is one of the UH athletic department’s top revenue generating sports.

ANDREW LEE / SPECIAL TO THE STAR-ADVERTISER / SEPT. 2019
                                The Rainbow Wahine volleyball team, left, celebrated after winning a set against Army on Sept. 5 at the Stan Sheriff Center. Women’s volleyball is one of the UH athletic department’s top revenue generating sports.
4/4
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ANDREW LEE / SPECIAL TO THE STAR-ADVERTISER / SEPT. 2019

The Rainbow Wahine volleyball team, left, celebrated after winning a set against Army on Sept. 5 at the Stan Sheriff Center. Women’s volleyball is one of the UH athletic department’s top revenue generating sports.

JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                The Stan Sheriff Center has been closed since the University of Hawaii suspended its sporting events on March 12 in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
BRUCE ASATO / BASATO@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                University of Hawaii Athletics Director David Matlin, left, and President David Lassner, right, welcomed new UH football coach Todd Graham, on Jan. 21. When Graham will make his debut on the sideline remains uncertain.
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM / NOV. 2019
                                Hawaii quarterback Chevan Cordeiro, above, delivered a throw while being pursued by San Diego State defensive lineman Myles Cheatum during UH’s 14-11 win over the Aztecs on Nov. 23 at Aloha Stadium. Football is one of the UH athletic department’s top revenue generating sports.
ANDREW LEE / SPECIAL TO THE STAR-ADVERTISER / SEPT. 2019
                                The Rainbow Wahine volleyball team, left, celebrated after winning a set against Army on Sept. 5 at the Stan Sheriff Center. Women’s volleyball is one of the UH athletic department’s top revenue generating sports.

The stadiums and arena are shuttered, the ticket office has been closed indefinitely and it is anybody’s guess in this COVID-19 cursed year when it might be safe enough for the University of Hawaii football and women’s volleyball seasons to get underway.

With each passing day, the emerging question for athletics isn’t just a matter of when will it be advisable to allow the games to begin? A deeper question is: How severe will the resulting financial struggle be by the time the doors eventually open?

They are questions lacking any early or easy answers and some administrators said they shudder to even consider the range of possibilities at this point.

Apart from self-generated revenue such as ticket sales, media rights, sponsorships and donations, which are already taking a hit amid economic uncertainty, UH, like the vast majority of its major college peers, also depends on institutional, state and student funds to help operate its 21-team athletic program. Which could be a whole other challenge.

For the fiscal year that closed June 30, 2019, UH received approximately 35% of its funding, nearly $18 million, through direct institutional, state and student support, according to an independent auditor’s report.

For institutional, state and student support, percentage-wise, UH has regularly placed at the bottom of the nine-member Big West Conference, where it competes in most sports. In the 12-school Mountain West, where the Rainbow Warriors compete in football, UH usually ranks in the bottom half.

But unlike its most of its brethren, UH’s financial well being is tethered to an economy heavily reliant on a tourism industry, a sector that has been increasingly battered by the impact of COVID-19. And the state Legislature and UH system are going to have myriad of compelling, competing entities for what funds they are able to appropriate.

Some of the same concerns are being raised at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, Fla, where tourism also helps pay the bills to the tune of $28.8 million from school and state funds. ”The state’s ability to support the university system could have a trickle-down effect on our department athletic director Danny White told Sports Illustrated.

In the Great Recession of 2009, tourism in Hawaii slowed to a standstill, but at least there was no pandemic to contend with. Still, the plummeting tax revenues prompted the state to slash $155 million from the UH System’s appropriation.

Athletics took a share of the cuts with administrators receiving mandatory salary reductions and some jobs lost. Though coaches were exempt under terms of their contracts, several, including then-Rainbow Wahine volleyball coach Dave Shoji, took voluntary cuts.

In recent weeks on the mainland, some schools have begun to announce furloughs and layoffs with salary cuts for those who remain. Even some historically well-heeled schools from Power-5 conferences have undertaken early austerity measures.

UH athletic director David Matlin was not immediately able to comment on possible scenarios.

When the time comes, college athletics can help provide a step toward normalcy for fans. But sports operations will face its own challenges in getting up off the deck with the looming question becoming the how steep the climb might be.


Reach Ferd Lewis at flewis@staradvertiser.com or 529-4820.


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