Ethics Concerns Over Sports Fee

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - July 21, 2010
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Now we know. Beginning in January, UHManoa students will have yet another fee added to their ever-growing tuition costs.

Love or hate it, the athletics fee was inevitable. One cannot stem the tide nor, seemingly, stop the out-of-control finances of big-time university athletics. Similar fees have been the norm for years across the landscape and UH, faced with annual deficits, had to either join the masses or figure out a way to live within its means. Since no one else in the nation has figured out a way to spend responsibly, it is probably too much to expect such discipline from a school saddled with a tradition of bloated bureaucracy and a head-in-the-sand mentality.

For 90 percent of the universities in this country, athletics is a financial drain. According to the NCAA Revenues and Expenses of Division I Intercollegiate Athletics Programs Report Fiscal Years 2004, 2005 and 2006, only 19 Football Bowl Subdivision (D-1) schools generated revenue that exceeded expenses for fiscal year 2006. The report also says the median negative net revenue was $8.9 million. In comparison, UH is doing quite well. But being best of the worst is hardly comforting.


Professors bristle over more money going to the athletic department while the school is burdened with a statewide $368 million maintenance backlog. Students are reluctant to add yet another bill to the cost of their education - which has nearly doubled since 2005.

Regardless of the concerns, after UH Regents voted 11-3 Friday to approve the fee, it is no longer a topic of debate. Focus must now shift toward keeping an eye on the program to make sure it doesn’t stray from its intended purpose. The first concern is making sure generated funds actually go toward balancing the budget and are not just an excuse for further spending. Second is ensuring the program doesn’t cut ethical corners.

Two million dollars cannot ensure financial accountability. Athletic departments run on deficits not because they cannot generate revenue but because every increase in funding is matched with an equal amount of spending. More is necessary - and never enough. UH cannot afford such debt spending. That will only result in more fees, general fund loans or bankruptcy.

ASUH and GSO, the undergrad and graduate student representative organizations, complained loudly about what they feel is a lack of transparency over the issue - pointing often to the timing of the issue which they feel was specifically scheduled to limit student participation. That point is debatable. What isn’t is the vague language in the proposal that leaves too much room for speculation, and, therefore, further distrust in the athletic department.

The proposal calls for “5 to 8 percent of the total student athletic fee collected to support a variety of activities for students.” What that really means is that 5 percent of the money will go to tailgating, transportation and prize give-aways with the remaining 3 percent, worth about $60,000, typically remaining with the athletic department.

Also worth watching is the membership of the Student Athletic Fee Committee, which will determine how the money is spent. The committee will be chaired by Vice Chancellor of Students Dr. Francisco J. Hernandez, and the athletic department will be represented. Beyond that there are no guarantees.

Page two of the proposal says the committee will be a “student-majority committee” but that is called into question four lines earlier on the same page where it says the committee “could be composed of members from the ASUH, GSO, Athletic Advisory Board, Residence Hall Association, the Student Activity and Program Fee Board and student life.”

Could and will may be the difference between trust and suspicion. That’s a fragile balance on a campus as badly split as UH.

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