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How Hawaii spent $200,000 to avoid paying a $17,000 scholarship

Matt Hinton
Dr. Saturday

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Considering how much of the attention lately has been about so-called amateurs who allegedly found a way to get paid for playing football while still on campus, it's only appropriate that we shift gears today with a story on a player who wound up getting paid because a school didn't want him. Meet Daniel Smith, a former Hawaii recruit who, according to settlement documents released late last week, wound up costing the university nearly $200,000 in payments and legal fees after then-new coach Greg McMackin pulled his scholarship offer at the last second:

Smith, a defensive back from Boise, Idaho, said he committed to the Warriors, who offered him a scholarship, told him to refuse other offers and then reneged on their promise, leaving him without a scholarship on national letter of intent day in 2008.

A lawsuit was filed soon after and the parties reached a settlement agreement in 2010, nearly 2 1⁄2 years after the case began, in which UH paid Smith $41,500 "in order to avoid further controversy and the time, expense, risks and costs inherent in litigation," according to documents released by the school under the state's open records law. According to the settlement, "this agreement shall not be construed as an admission of liability."

Under a similar open records request, UH said it has paid $151,764 to outside attorneys to help defend the case. In addition, court documents show UH was assessed $3,486.78 in sanctions by the court.

Smith walked on instead at Portland State, suffered an injury and gave up football following a transfer to Division III Whittier College, aka "Richard Nixon U," in California; he plans to graduate next year before (of course) enrolling in law school. For its part, Hawaii claimed Smith had never received a valid offer and didn't have the grades the previous coaching staff had been led to believe. But the university wound up failing basic math: Because he was set to receive a Western University Exchange scholarship that dropped his out-of-state tab from $28,000 a year to $17,000, Smith's total cost to UH even if he'd stayed for four years would have amounted to $68,000, or roughly one-third of what the university wound up shelling out to keep him off the team. (Considering Smith's scholarship went to someone else, the university didn't
"save" anything except Smith's addition to the roster.)

That's no chump change for an athletic department that continues to operate on a massive deficit. This is the program, you may recall, that was once blasted by its star quarterback at the height of its on-field success in 2007 for apparently lacking the funds to keep soap in the showers. The following January, off the best season in school history, UH lost head coach June Jones — a former UH quarterback — to a program that had just finished 1-11, because SMU could afford to pay him more than Hawaii could hope to match. Not that $200,000 would put the Warriors back in the black, but when you're pinching pennies on basic hygiene, every little bit helps.

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Hat tip: @AndyStaples
Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.

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