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UH-Hilo, Manoa Hoping for Travel Relief from Legislature

March 23, 2016, 6:23 PM HST
* Updated March 24, 7:17 AM
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Hawaii State Legislature photo.

Hawaii State Legislature photo.

All eyes have been focused on the athletic department at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa and its pleas for help from Governor David Ige and the state Legislature for its share of $3 million in travel funds for its teams.

In fact, more of the state’s attention has been focused on the Manoa department thanks to the success of its men’s and women’s basketball teams, winners of the Big West Conference, earning them national attention at the NCAA tournament.

Unbeknownst to many outside of the Big Island, the University of Hawai’i at Hilo athletic department is also seeking its share of travel fund money from lawmakers.

Of the $3 million sought by both programs, UH-Hilo is seeking approximately $560,000. There are no other intercollegiate programs on the island, so every away game comes with a price tag.

“It’s definitely been busy,” UH-Hilo athletic director Patrick Guillen said of the many meeting and sessions with lawmakers on Oahu. “David [Matlin, Hawai’i athletic director] and I have been working together. The nice thing about it is at least the conversation is happening. It is something that hasn’t really happened in the past, specifically for UH-Hilo athletics.

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Of course, it isn’t as simple as just a yes or no answer from the politicians in power. The proposal has gone through several committees, and has passed through the Senate Ways and Means, Tourism, and Education committees. In the House of Representatives, it passed through the Tourism committee last week and is slated to go up for discussion at the Higher Education committee.

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Earlier this year, Governor Ige decided not to put additional funding for UH and UH-Hilo athletics in his budget request to lawmakers

UH-Hilo operates on an athletic budget that is roughly around $3 million, a small fraction of the approximately $30 million that runs the Hawai’i athletics program. Seventy percent of UH-Hilo’s budget is consumed by travel related expenses.

In testimony submitted by Guillen and Chancellor Donald Straney, it was stated that the costs are only slated to go higher, especially with the loss of Brigham Young University-Hawai’i following the 2016-2017 sports year. The Oahu school is shutting down its intercollegiate athletics program.

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“This decision leaves UH-Hilo with one less Hawai’i institution to schedule with and adds yet another mainland school, thereby increasing costs even more,” said Guillen and Straney in written testimony.

Hawai’i’s athletic department runs differently than UH-Hilo’s. The athletic department at UH-Hilo does not fall under its own department, like Manoa’s does. Hilo doesn’t offer several sports that Manoa does, however, including track and field, football, and sailing.

Guillen’s case for receiving funding is similar to Matlin’s case at big brother Hawai’i, as he hopes to show that UH-Hilo drives in tourism revenue and is just as important in bringing people to the islands.

“We just hosted in February the 25th annual Amer Ari golf invitational. It brings in 18 of the top Division I men’s golf programs in the country to the island,” said Guillen. “In that one-week span, the teams and the families and the fans utilize over 700 room nights on the Kona side. That’s bringing in travel and tourism dollars, restaurants, rental cars, everything else.

“We only think that it would be a natural synergy that we can possibly gain from some of this money that we bring in.”

The money talked about would, coincidentally, be taken from the Hawai’i Tourism Authority’s budget, one of two different bills floating around the legislature that seeks to strike money from HTA to go towards sports-related measures. The other would seek to start a Sports and Entertainment Authority, which would attempt to bring more top-level sporting events to the islands, with money coming from the transient accommodation tax that normally goes toward the tourism agency.

Opposition to the bill has come on many fronts, especially from those who receive funding or benefit from HTA’s support. In testimony submitted last week, Heather Simmons of the Hawai’i Forest Industry Association in O’okala said that “HFIA has been fortunate to received HTA Natural Resources and Cultural Resources funds for our forest restoration and environmental and cultural education programs for many years and a reduction in these funds would greatly affect the delivery of our very important programs.”

Testimony also came in from Scott Head, the Vice President of Waikoloa Land Company, who said that if passed, Senate Bill 83 would “weaken the Hawai’i visitor industry, which is the State’s largest economic driver and provider of jobs.”

Said Guillen, “We’re just making the case that this is our need, travel costs have gone up exponentially, especially for Hilo, in the last seven years, and we need some help.”

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