New Stadium: A Political Football

Larry Price
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Wednesday - July 25, 2007
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It’s not a surprise that a handful of legislators are beating a familiar drum, sending signals to the community that Hawaii needs a new “world-class,” multi-purpose, state of the art sports facility.

There seems to be a sense of urgency, because affordable housing and a mass transit system are cluttering Hawaii’s economic horizon. Former Gov. Ben Cayetano can be credited with lighting the legislative flame back in 2001 when he told the University of Hawaii the most economical option to building a new stadium would be to sell Aloha Stadium’s land to developers, sell the existing stadium for scrap and use the money to build a replacement facility on vacant land that is part of the planned four-year West Oahu campus.

UH, with its advanced marketing skills, has long visualized a new sports facility that would be underwritten by sponsorship and run by the UH, which would receive signage, parking and concessions rights fees. It is an optimistic assumption by the UH since they have had a difficult time just keeping up with providing dormitories on campus.

It should be noted that this suggestion is from politicians and others who would benefit from a new sports facility. It is not the kind of suggestion that would come from a sober university administration. A responsible university president would have to make academic compatibility and prominence a priority in evaluating the institution, not the size of its sports facility.

Politics has the same relationship to athletics that bull fighting has to agriculture. And the reason is simple: Times have changed. When it comes to Division I-A stadiums, a lot has changed from the time UH made its debut in Halawa. Since then only a few, if any, Division I-A facilities have been constructed with a seating capacity of 50,000 of more. The trend has been to renovate existing facilities and away from building larger new ones.

The history of UH football does not match the efforts of so many hard-working dedicated individuals. The record will show only 11 percent of the games that have been played in Aloha Stadium have averaged over 37,500. Once upon a time, stadium attendance provided more of the revenue stream, stadium size figured larger in evaluating the goals and objectives of its athletic programs. Today, television talks.

In the old days Division I-A schools pooled television revenue under the NCAA and College Football Association contracts. But the Supreme Court ruled in 1983 that colleges would be free to negotiate their own deals, and conferences with the most attractive lineups have been the ones richly rewarded. The WAC conference is now and has always been a impotent group of institutions. When Arizona and Arizona State Universities pulled out of the WAC to join the Pacific Coast Conference, the rich have gotten richer and the poor poorer.

On the scale of big-time athletics, UH has to live with the fact that it is the 72nd largest TV market, and with only 383,000 households isn’t going to be invited to join the PAC-10. It’s more likely the WAC will get weaker in the future, not stronger. Granted, UH will be the premier institution in the WAC, but that in itself should not warrant a new “world-class” stadium in Kapolei. The taxpayers don’t deserve the added burden of an ill-conceived political stadium.

Aloha Stadium can be renovated for much less than the “merchants of doom” suggest, and if frozen in the football configuration can easily last another 25-30 years. In the meantime, the politicians might consider spending the projected $350-million to build a new stadium on upgrading the graduate and graduate academic programs. Why? because, it’s probably the best way to get UH into the PAC-10.

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