Stephen Tsai: UH athletics needs resources it does not have

Oct. 31—This football season, four University of Hawaii football players, including a running back and receiver last week, entered the NCAA transfer portal.

This football season, four University of Hawaii football players, including a running back and receiver last week, entered the NCAA transfer portal.

The thing is, rule changes in recent years have eased the way for NCAA teams, including woefully underfunded programs such as UH, to restock rosters.

Unlike NFL general managers, who are limited by a salary cap and seven-round draft, Division I schools can add players through NIL (name, image, likeness ) arrangements and a generous scholarship capacity. It was how Deion Sanders did a makeover on the Colorado roster, with plans to fill the proverbial shopping cart to add more needed players.

In the old days, NCAA football teams were limited to offering up to 25 new scholarships each year. Now if a team loses, say, 40 players through graduations and transfers, it can replace all of them, as long as the program does not exceed the annual 85-scholarship limit.

The NCAA's one-time-transfer rule also is better than any pro league's free-agency policy. Baseball players can become free agents after six years of MLB service. In the NFL, a player with at least four seasons of experience and whose contract has expired is free to sign with any team with no direct draft compensation owed to his initial team.

The NCAA used to have tight restrictions on player movement. A player who transferred had to sit out a season before being allowed to play for the next school. A coach could leave a program and work immediately for his next employer—not so for a player.

But an exemption was created to allow a graduate student-athlete to play immediately for the next school. It was further changed so that now every player is allowed a one-time exemption to transfer without sitting out a season. There now are players who sign a letter of intent with a team in December, ask for a release from the scholarship before even attending a class, then sign a scholarship agreement with another school, and play in the fall.

Sometimes the transfers are motivated by playing time, a disagreement with the team's leadership, or lucrative NIL opportunities.

It has become a recruiter's market to reload. This season, eight of 11 Mountain West teams (not including the Air Force Academy, which has a strict acceptance process ) started quarterbacks who began their careers at other schools.

In college football, where many schools are in small markets, an attractive NIL package can help any school get in the recruiting conversation with a highly regarded prospect.

The caveat is the transfer system still is weighted toward the programs with resources. And that's the challenge for UH, which has these deficiencies :—There has been little progress in replacing Aloha Stadium, which was self-condemned to spectator events in December 2020.—The temporary home venue, the Ching Complex, has the smallest seating capacity (15, 300 ) and most portable lavatories among Mountain West football members.—With the grass field turned over to the soccer and track programs, the football Warriors' only practice area is Ching.—Although a local hui has been trying to raise NIL money, efforts so far have paled in comparison to most other schools'.

UH has explored creating more premium seating and parking, but that is akin to a casino raising the minimum bet from $10 to $25. Higher buy-in, but the same gamblers.

UH needs more money to compete against other programs. Even with relaxed rules, there is little that is free when it comes to a free market.