Hawaii's football program funds meager
By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Dan Nakaso
The University of Hawai'i reached No. 12 in the Bowl Championship Series rankings despite a football program that generated a measly $7.5 million last year, puny in the world of big-time college football where programs like Ohio State and Georgia bring in more than $60 million.
"Compared to the other BCS schools, it's clear that UH has to manage its resources rather frugally," said John McNamara, UH's associate athletic director of external affairs. "When you look at the finances of the other institutions and find us in their company, it is a credit to the hard work and dedication of the players and the coaches."
UH ranks last out of this week's Top 12 BCS teams in both money earned and money spent on football, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Postsecondary Education.
UH, Ohio State and West Virginia did not report overall football team expenses to the Department of Education, like the other nine universities did.
But under operating team expenses, UH said it spent $2.17 million through June 30 — compared with overall team expenses of more than $16 million for much richer programs such as Georgia, the University of Southern California, Oklahoma and Boston College. And Virginia Tech and Florida spent more than $20 million apiece on overall team expenses.
Overall, seven Top 12 BCS teams spent more than twice what UH earned in total football revenue.
State Rep. K. Mark Takai, D-34th (Newtown, Waiau, Pearl City), competed as a UH swimmer for four years before graduating with bachelor's and master's degrees in the early 1990s. As a member of the House Higher Education Committee, Takai hopes an undefeated season (should UH win on Saturday), WAC championship and potential multimillion-dollar bowl appearance bring momentum to his so-far-unsuccessful efforts to give UH some piece of Aloha Stadium concession sales — or perhaps a new stadium that he tried to get launched this year.
"The only thing UH generates in revenue is sales of tickets," Takai said. "None of the beer, none of the hot dogs, none of the parking revenue. Many other schools have their own facilities and generate a lot of revenue from that."
Takai was embarrassed when ESPN broadcasters Sean McDonough and Chris Spielman told a national television audience watching the UH-Boise State game on Friday that UH's athletic facilities are "shabby" and shameful.
"Now that we have gotten to this level, we need to put our money into this program," Takai said. "If we're going to expect June Jones and his team to compete at this level year in and year out, they're going to need additional support, whether it's to the facilities which are clearly in desperate need of help, or whether it's corporate or public support."
At a press conference yesterday, Jones was asked about the ESPN comments and said, "I didn't hear 'em. I know when they came in here for the (pre-game) interview, they were in our offices, you know, and made some comments, and looked out on Cooke Field. That was it. We didn't talk about any of that.
"It's not anything that isn't known already," Jones said. "There's nothing there."
Asked if he was embarrassed by the condition of UH's athletic facilities, Jones said, "I came here not for the facilities, and our players don't come here for the facilities. They come here because it's a great place to live and a great place to play football. If we were recruiting to facilities, we wouldn't get anybody. Those are the same dorms I lived in in 1973."
The condition of UH's degrading athletic facilities got renewed attention this year when UH quarterback Colt Brennan complained to The Advertiser about the condition of Cooke Field's infield, musty locker rooms and lack of soap in the showers.
"When we're winning, we get compared to big programs like Ohio State and USC," Brennan said in May before his senior season began. "I wonder how analysts would look at our achievements if they realize what we have to overcome through facilities, resources and traveling."
Dexter Kekua, chief financial officer of Heide & Cook, responded to Brennan's comments by offering to buy a year's supply of locker-room soap.
Coach Jones declined Kekua's offer, saying that maintenance crews were already replacing missing soap dispensers and refilling them. But the memory still irks Kekua.
"This is a Division I-A program," he said yesterday. "You've got to be kidding me. It just didn't make any sense."
Kekua has donated a pair of fans to use at practice and always provides misting sideline fans on game day whenever asked — for free. Kekua also always tells any opposing teams that he's out of fan inventory if they should call to rent fans for their side of the field.
The success of the UH football team has inspired an entire island state, Kekua said, and it's only fitting that businesses like his try to help out.
He's a huge fan of Jones' speeches and has implemented many of Jones' tactics — such as changing the design of Heide & Cook's logo, having each of the 157 employees undergo motivational training and changing the company's appearance by having Reyn Spooner redesign the company's work T-shirts for plumbers, sheet metal workers and air-conditioner installers.
"We wanted to change our persona, give us a stronger look," Kekua said. "Coach Jones changed uniforms and got rid of the old 'Bows. Look at how people are calling him a super genius."
Even if UH makes it to a BCS bowl appearance, that won't necessarily change its football fortunes.
Last year's WAC champion, Boise State, earned about $4.5 million as its share of a Fiesta Bowl appearance against Oklahoma, McNamara said. After expenses, the Broncos netted about $3 million, he said.
At his press conference yesterday, Jones said: "If you get to the big dance, it's going to help because the athletic department gets some money. Hopefully, that means Cooke Field gets some FieldTurf."
The athletic department shares its financial troubles with the rest of the other nine UH campuses on every major island. A newly ruined science building and dilapidated dormitories on the main Manoa campus are just a few of the items on a long list of other big-ticket needs.
"If we are fortunate enough to advance to a BCS game, the revenue from that opportunity is not going to cure all the financial ills," McNamara said. "The athletic department does not exist in a vacuum. We're part of an entire university system, and our needs and priorities should not take on any greater urgency than any other department in the system. That money is to be spent at the discretion of the chancellor."
But the success of the football team this year has undoubtedly begun to generate other kinds of profits, McNamara said.
"With this type of national success and acclaim, you tend to see increases in season ticket sales, donations and admissions applications to the university," he said. "We can't put a price on the exposure that four straight national telecasts has delivered, not only to the football program but to tourism, to the entire state of Hawai'i. Everything has been touched in some way. Everybody has greater pride in being a citizen of Hawai'i."
Robbie Acoba, the owner of Eastside Bar & Grill on University Avenue, has already seen about a 10 percent increase in business on football game days compared with last year.
"As a whole, everybody has benefited," Acoba said.
UH's football financial "numbers show that we have more work to do," he said. "But the kids and the coaches have given 200 percent and have shown the rest of the nation what Hawai'i is about."
Kekua is doing his part to help out the football team and hopes other companies do, as well.
But whether UH ever gets into the financial big leagues like other Top 12 BCS teams, Kekua believes he's already richer for implementing one of Jones' favorite sayings:
"It's not how many times you get knocked down," Kekua said. "It's how many times you get up."Advertiser staff writer Stephen Tsai contributed to this report.
Reach Dan Nakaso at firstname.lastname@example.org.