Hawaii athletics director Ben Jay painted a grim picture for the future of his football program while speaking to the university’s board of regents on Monday afternoon.
"There's a very real possibility of football going away," Jay reportedly told the Board. "But even if football goes away, all the revenues that football drives goes away and then it becomes a costlier venture for the university."
Jay is hoping the board will ask the state for the direct funding. Hawaii is currently facing a $1.5 to $3-million budget deficit this year and has worked under a budget deficit during 11 of the past 13 years.
And the football program isn’t helping.
Because the program has not had a winning season since 2010 and has won just four games in the past two seasons, interest is down. By the end of July, Hawaii had sold just 15,568 season tickets for the team’s seven-game home schedule. Hawaii has sold at least 18,000 season tickets every year since the 1970s.
Last year, it sold just 18,354 season tickets.
Even when the team posted an undefeated regular season and played in the Sugar Bowl, season ticket sales for the following year only swelled to 27,700 in 2008.
Aloha Stadium seats 50,000.
Earlier this month, Jay noted that the NCAA ruling to give the five richest conferences autonomy also could hurt Hawaii’s bottom line. As the Mountain West attempts to keep up with the “Power Five,” it might also want to add cost-of-attendance scholarships, which has been a hot topic with the power conferences. There’s also talk of different recruiting rules and insurance benefits for players, all things that would cost a significant amount of money.
"We're going to have to generate more revenue," Jay told Hawaii News Now. "There's no doubt about that. We've always had to do that. People want to support football and basketball and baseball and all of our other sports, so it's going to come down to how are we going to get that support financially from our fan base and from all the folks who love UH athletics."
Trust that many programs, especially those that heavily recruit Hawaii (many in the Pac-12 Conference and BYU), will be keeping a close eye on Hawaii and using Jay’s words as a pitch to get players to come to the mainland for college.
Jay is realistic in the uphill battle Hawaii faces and said there are "tough times ahead."
"Not been a matter of spending, it has really been a matter of not achieving enough revenue to support ourselves, " Jay said. "What we have now is a bare bones operating budget that is limping along and has hurt our competitiveness and our ability to recruit and people want us to win. It raises, I think the entire state, by what we do. And, I think we are worthy of the investment."
Later Monday, Jay released a statement through Hawaii about the comments he made earlier.
"My comments at the Committee on Intercollegiate Athletics meeting were made in order to convey a sense of urgency regarding the need to address our current funding model. In no way was I indicating that a decision on program reduction of any sport was under consideration. Rather, I was suggesting that the department's financial situation required that all possible scenarios be reviewed. Hopefully, going forward, there will be a priority placed on discussing the future financial needs of the UH Athletics Department. President David Lassner has expressed his support and we'll call upon our many loyal stakeholders to help us ensure that we remain competitive within the future landscape of intercollegiate athletics. We owe that to our student-athletes and passionate fans."
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