clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

No, Hawaii isn't going to drop football in the near future. Here's why

It appears likely one of the country's most challenged programs will remain in FBS.

Marco Garcia-USA TODAY Sports

Lost in the shuffle of higher-profile coaching decisions, Hawaii hired Nevada offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich as its new head coach, replacing Norm Chow.

When compared to many of the other coaching jobs this cycle, like USC or Georgia, Hawaii doesn't look like a very appealing job. I (unsuccessfully) debated just a few weeks ago that it's one of the hardest jobs in FBS.

Why is Hawaii a hard job? A big reason is that after the Chow firing, there were rumbles on social media that Hawaii could just decide to drop the program or leave FBS. This doesn't seem like an outlandish idea, seeing as its old athletic director, just last year, said it was a possibility. The financial issues that come with running a team thousands of miles from the closest FBS program seem apparent. Even Bruce Feldman tweeted the program might not stay afloat.

But is Hawaii actually going to cut its program in the near future?

Hawaii's actions seem to match its words.

A spokesperson for Hawaii said former AD Ben Jay "misspoke" and that the university "currently has no plans to shut down the program." For what it's worth, its recent actions back that up.

A school that is looking to cut the sport or drop out of FBS would be unlikely to fire a coach in the middle of the season, triggering a buyout of about $300,000.

Hawaii also extended its pay-per-view TV contract last season, all the way through 2019.

Hawaii sent an internal financial document detailing the state of the program from last season. Among many other things, this document laid out goals. Here's the first:

Laugh if you want (it's good to have dreams), but that doesn't sound like a goal of a program looking to get out of football. Despite what you might have inferred from Colorado over these last few seasons, having an FBS team is a Pac-12 requirement.

You can believe Hawaii or not, but few of its moves look like things a program looking to get out of football would be doing.

The Mountain West doesn't indicate Hawaii's leaving, for what that's worth.

A MWC spokesperson said Hawaii has had no conversations with the conference about a withdrawal or dropping football. The Mountain West confirmed that, unlike the Sun Belt's relationship with affiliate members Idaho and New Mexico State, Hawaii's membership is permanent. The Rainbow Warriors will be in the Mountain West as long as they want to be there.


Get one roundup of college football stories, rumors, game breakdowns, and Jim Harbaugh oddity in your inbox every morning.

Dropping football might not even help the finances.

Based on data Hawaii provided, UH spent nearly $9 million on football last year, which includes salaries, game guarantees, recruiting, travel, facility expenses and more. Because of its location, Hawaii also has to subsidize travel expenses for MWC opponents.

One could look at the balance sheet and conclude that lopping off $9 million would solve Hawaii's athletic department budget. The math isn't that simple.

For one, that pay-pre-view TV deal pays out a minimum of $2.3 million a year. Consumers are willing to shell out $75 to watch Hawaii play New Mexico, but they're more likely to do that if the sport is football than volleyball.

Hawaii dropping football would mean it'd have to leave the Mountain West Conference and thus lose access to College Football Playoff revenue sharing. Hawaii isn't a part of the MWC TV deal, so it can't get bonuses, but it does get an equal 1/12th cut of Playoff money. If the Rainbow Warriors make a New Year's Six bowl game (the new BCS-level bowls, one of which Hawaii made in 2007), that bonus could be quite lucrative (Boise State made $4.1 million from making the Fiesta Bowl in 2014). An MWC spokesperson estimated Hawaii earned around $160,000 in Playoff money last year, though that will grow in the future.

Per the NCAA's numbers, Hawaii's home attendance was 192,000-plus last season, and from Hawaii's budget numbers, that earned the school more than $3.5 million.

When you add in the money that comes from guaranteed games (Ohio State paid Hawaii $1.2 million this year), you're around $7.1 million even if the Playoff cut weren't to grow. And then there's revenue from donations, corporate sponsorships, merchandise and other game day revenue to get closer to $9 million and maybe past it.

Plus, cutting football could risk negative impacts on general university giving, state tourism, local economic development and the university brand, things that don't show up on the balance sheet, but need to be taken into account.

Those travel expenses are real, but they're not necessarily deal breakers.

There are multiple other athletic programs in Hawaii. Chaminade, Hawaii Pacific and Hawaii-Hilo compete in the Pacific West Conference at the Division II level against schools in California and Utah.

Another PacWest school, BYU-Hawaii, is ending its athletic department after 2016-2017. BYU-H athletic director Ken Wagner told SB Nation that this decision was not made because of travel expenses.

"We actually have an extremely low cost budget. The financial costs of our athletic department have been relatively the same for a number of years without big increases. We're second to last in the amount of money we spent in our league."

Wagner said that the decision was philosophical, rather than financial. PacWest teams don't need to financially subsidize opponent travel like Hawaii does, but they're able to make everything work.

To remain compliant with Title IX, Hawaii wouldn't be able to just cut football.

It'd likely need to cut at least one women's sport to make the scholarships even out. At that point, even if the math checks out, removing that many scholarships could prove untenable.

In the same budget document, Hawaii offered three scenarios that involved cutting sports as ways of alleviating budget stress. One of them involved cutting football, two women's teams and one coed team.

For what it's worth, independent analysts reached a similar conclusion with UAB football: cutting the team could actually be more expensive.

So what happens next?

Rolovich has deep Hawaii ties, as he played QB for the Rainbow Warriors from 2000-2001 and coached there from 2008-2011. SB Nation's Bill Connelly notes Rolovich's record has some reason for excitement, but also caution.

"He's had a couple of awesome offensive seasons when the experience and talent were in the right place -- his 2010 Hawaii offense ranked 23rd in Off. S&P+, and his 2012-13 Nevada offenses were both in the top 50. Returns have diminished in recent years, but you could suggest that's a Jimmys-and-Joes thing more than X's and O's.

"Of course, there's nothing saying he'll get the Jimmys and Joes he needs now. Chow's last two offenses were in the bottom 10 of Off. S&P+, and the defenses obviously weren't good enough to make up the difference. He's got a lot of work ahead."

The Rainbow Warriors are operating on a slim margin, but if Rolovich is able to inject some more excitement, even a modest increase in ticket sales can help close that.

Thanks to a recent gift, Hawaii will still be able to offer cost of attendance scholarships. Their revenue numbers are low, but other Mountain West programs are still lower. And even with the geographical and structural challenges, people have won there before. June Jones took them to a Sugar Bowl not that long ago, after all.

More college football for you