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Can the state afford a big time college football program?

 
NunokawaJILL NUNOKAWA
CIVIL RIGHTS COUNSELOR, UNIVERSITY OF HAWAII; BACHELOR'S AND LAW DEGREES, UH-MANOA, FORMER UH WOMEN'S BASKETBALL PLAYER
 Takai
STATE REP.
K. MARK TAKAI,
AIEA-PEARL CITY

BACHELOR'S AND MASTER'S DEGREES, UNIVERSITY OF HAWAII-MANOA,
WAC CHAMPION SWIMMER

A:
I was in the 1 percent of our state population who followed our “dream” team to the Sugar Bowl. The University of Georgia fans extended their Southern hospitality, but it felt like the calm before the storm, like we were young children being patted on our heads by our elders. Our familiar tailgating and 35,000 UH fans were replaced with 30-degree weather and 50,000 Georgia and LSU fans. I had tried to sell my two extra tickets but was laughed at and was told I’d be lucky to get $30, because Hawaii didn’t bring enough fans to the game. It was an eye-opening entrance into big-time athletics.

Can corporate donors, alumni and fans at UH sustain long-term funding that resembles that of USC, Georgia, Florida or Penn State? Georgia football revenues were more than three times UH’s entire athletics budget last year. So, it will take more than an increase in ticket sales, premium-seating taxation and periodic legislative handouts.

A lack of foresight, action and accountability left UH without a head football coach, an athletics director, proper funding, adequate facilities and compliance with Title IX. Prudent assessment and fiscal responsibility were abandoned for continuity and comfort. Necessary discussions of academic priorities were silenced while reactionary offers of millions for football salaries and athletic facilities were made to unproven assistants, without established legislative funding and secured private donations like the $10 million that SMU’s athletic director raised in 10 weeks for its new football coach.

Hawaii must set its priorities for our collective future. Athletics are extra-curricular. They are extra to the basic needs of our state and the basic duties and obligations we have in providing for our families. Athletics are certainly extra to the core mission of UH-Manoa, which serves our community in crucial economic, social, cultural and political arenas.
 
A:
Yes. A successful football program brings hope, pride and inspiration. In the first year of the Jones Era, Hawaii won nine games after a dismal 0-12 season. The 1999 season restored hope to our state. Last season, the football team went 12-0 and went to our very first BCS bowl game. We all believed.

The ability of athletics to give people hope and inspiration is awesome. People love to identify with and root for winners and our Warriors and Wahines are winners. Additionally, the UH athletic program is a source of pride and inspiration for our whole state, much as professional teams are for other cities and states.

A successful football program brings economic opportunities. Successful football breeds success for the other sports and for academics. Football is a revenue generator, and surplus revenues from football support other men’s sports and, more importantly, support much-desired women’s sports.

Throughout the collegiate world, successful athletic programs result in increased marketing and exposure for universities and states. Athletic success brings real and tangible benefits to the uni-versity, such as increased merchandise sales, prospective student applications, corporate donations and alumni giving.

Since Hawaii’s economy is driven by tourism, UH athletic programs generate numerous impressions on national television, on Web sites and in print. This type of media presence is invaluable and would be impossible for the university or the state to afford. Our Warrior Nation stretches to all corners of the globe. The UH-stylized “Hawaii” emblem is worn by people in Japan, Germany and on the Mainland.

There’s nothing wrong with leveraging our successes on the field, court or pool, to support the state and the university. The real question is: Can we afford NOT to have a big-time football program? Answer: Absolutely not.

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