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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, February 18, 2010

Stop flow of red ink starts with regents

By Ferd Lewis

The multitude of graphs and charts were well turned out. The numbers were aligned neatly and precisely.

The collective full-color, power-point picture they painted of University of Hawai'i athletics wasn't.

After more than an hour of facts and figures yesterday at the Board of Regents committee on audits' meeting yesterday, it was clear the model for funding UH sports is broken. Badly.

UH finished the last fiscal year $2.6 million in the hole and its accumulated net deficit as of June 30, 2009 is $8 million since 2002, according to an independent auditor's report.

And, that wasn't the worst of it. The accumulated red ink is projected to rise to $10.1 million when the current fiscal year closes June 30.

The question that should be before the regents' full board meets today is: What is to be done about it?

Appropriately enough, the quest for the cure convenes at the John A. Burns School of Medicine this morning.

It might not be the regents' charge to hands-on heal the patient that is the state's only major college athletic program, but they have the power to see that the responsible parties are pointed in the right direction toward one.

They can command the president, Mānoa chancellor and athletic director to put their heads and resources together and redouble efforts to get the 19-sport program back toward the black, or at least to a manageable figure.

A student fee? A share of parking revenue? A break on tuition? Put them on the table for serious discussion and then tell athletics to further roll up its sleeves and get to work. Get the Mānoa campus and UH athletics together to draw up a realistic and workable timetable to managing a crisis that never should have gotten this far out of hand.

For seven of the last eight years the Mānoa campus has essentially been the writer of overdraft protection as athletics piled up deficits. First it was $296,719 then $2.4 million, then ... well, pretty soon it began to add up to, as they say, real money.

The problem was UH got attached to profligate ways in the comparative good old days. Back in times when the state's economy was good and its teams drew well, UH spent and spent, no longer bothering to save for a rainy day as once was its charge. And the folks in charge, despite the auditor's repeated characterizations of the financial condition as "fragile" never put their foot down.

So, when fortunes of UH's teams began to go south and the state's economy suddenly tanked, the hole got too deep to climb out of. And, now, it needs a ladder and a helping hand.

Not that anybody who has been paying attention should really be surprised.