University of Hawaii athletic director Ben Jay told members of the school's board of regents on Monday that financial concerns could jeopardize the future of athletics at Hawaii.
"There is a very real possibility of football going away," Jay told the board, according to the Honolulu Star Advertiser.
Jay said the university finished the fiscal year that ended June 30 with a $2.1 million deficit and estimates for next year project a $1.5 million deficit, the Advertiser reported. This comes from an athletic department that, according to Jay, has operated under a budget deficit 11 of the past 13 years.
This also comes less than two weeks after the NCAA ruled that Power 5 conferences will have greater autonomy in creating their own rules, including a potential provision that schools could provide cost-of-attendance stipends to student-athletes.
Hawaii's distance from the rest of the country helps add to the strain of balancing the school's athletic budget.
"UH is the only school in the nation that has to pay travel subsidies to teams that come to play us. That costs $1.5 million. We tried to level the playing field, provide some support," Rep. Mark Takai told KITV.
This comes seven years after Hawaii enjoyed its pinnacle season, going 12-0 during the regular season before losing 41-10 to Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. But now, the Rainbow Warriors have gone 4-20 the past two seasons under coach Norm Chow, formerly an assistant coach at both BYU and Utah.
It's a ripple in the college football world that could impact the state of Utah. Utah State and Hawaii both play in the Mountain West Conference, and the Rainbow Warriors were once a longtime member of the Western Athletic Conference with BYU and Utah.
Additionally, Hawaii and BYU canceled a pair of future games in January 2013, according to the Associated Press. The Cougars and Rainbow Warriors played in 2011 and 2012, BYU's first two years of independence. BYU won both games.
Following the meeting, the Hawaii athletics department released this statement from Jay: "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."
Earlier this year, another Hawaii school with ties to Utah — BYU-Hawaii, owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — made the decision to phase out its athletic program over the next three years.
"Following much discussion, more than 10 years of analysis, and consideration of several options, the decision has been made to phase out NCAA athletics at BYU–Hawaii over the next three years," said a press release posted March 28 on BYU-Hawaii's athletics Facebook page. "The money being spent on athletics programs will be used to provide educational opportunities for the increasing number of students from around the world who can be served by the university."
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