For Hawaii's Cash-Strapped Football Team, Parity Is on the Field

Article excerpt

Rhythmically moving in unison to native Hawaiian chants and movements, the Hawaii Warriors claim football turf as their battlefield in a pregame ritual called the "ha'a."

"It's calling out all the warriors and people of Hawaii to stand up and be ready because we're going into battle," says Hawaii senior linebacker Brad Kalilimoku.

In the greatest battle of Hawaii's football history, the team will bring the "ha'a" to New Orleans in the Jan. 1 Allstate Sugar Bowl game against the University of Georgia.

The road to Hawaii's first-ever Bowl Championship Series (BCS) game was an improbable one, as skeptics criticized the Western Athletic Conference team's weak strength of schedule and frequent need for comeback victories. But by the 2007 season's end, BCS No. 10-ranked Hawaii remained the sole unbeaten team in Division 1-A football, achieving the first perfect 12-0 season in the program's history.

What makes Hawaii's pile-driving trajectory so remarkable is that, in an era of college athletics dominated by big bucks, the team's budget is just an iota of that of many of its competitors. Hawaii will face the No. 4-ranked Georgia Bulldogs, a team that earns the highest profit margin of any collegiate athletic program, according to 2006 data from the US Department of Education. Georgia's football program alone brings in more than $60.3 million in revenue compared to Hawaii's $7.5 million. Hawaii's underdog story is a nostalgic reminder of an era when a team's budget/ deficit column wasn't correlated to its win/loss column.

"There is typically a decided advantage for well-funded schools such as Georgia," says David Carter, director of the Sports Business Institute at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. "In preparation for game day, these programs typically have better support for training and academics."

Hawaii athletic director Herman Frazier says his department, which earned a $7,483 profit during the 2006 fiscal year, has made substantial progress since recording a $2.5 million deficit just five years ago.

"Everyone wants to talk about budget versus budget, but it comes down to student athletes versus student athletes," says Mr. Frazier over phone from Honolulu. "They will show that they are just as good as the athletes from the University of Georgia."

Hawaii football coach June Jones says he hopes the BCS appearance profit - which Frazier estimates to be $2 million to $3 million after travel expenses - will go toward the recruiting budget and facility improvements. Mr. Jones says improvements are necessary to keep the team on the top tier, a level beyond imagination in 1999 when he inherited the 18-game losing streak team that Hawaii almost considered dropping. …

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