As BYU-Hawaii’s Athletics program approaches the end of its final season, coaches said while financial reasons were given for the change, they wished money could have been donated to pay for the program and that the loss of athletes and athletic activities will drastically change the campus.
BYUH released a statement three years ago under then BYUH President Steven C. Wheelwright regarding the Athletics program: “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. The Board, Executive Committee, and University Administration said they feel the top priority is to serve more students, especially those from the Pacific and Asia.”
However, Craig Stanger, head women’s basketball coach, said, “When they decided to make the announcement and pulled in the coaches and Athletics administration and told us what they were doing, we were not consulted and we were not involved in the process at all. They alluded to the fact that we were, but we weren’t. We certainly felt there were things we could have done to have helped them.
“If it was financial, they could have come to us and said, ‘Look, financially this just isn’t going to work. Let’s put our heads together and see if there is something we can do.’ But there was none of that.
There was, unofficially, numerous donors who stepped up to the tune of several million dollars, each of them, who offered to help bankroll and establish an endowment, and that was not accepted. So if it was financial, you would think they would try to figure out a way, or been accepting of the donation.
“What they hope to gain will never surpass what they are losing by eliminating the Athletics piece. There are many things Athletics does for the individuals who are involved in it, but mainly it’s a very good recruiting tool and a good missionary work tool for us. We have lost an unique opportunity to carry out the goals of the church and the university.”
David Porter, chairman of the Exercise and Sport Science Department, attributes the change to the availability of church funds. “I believe that the church has made the decision to not spend church funds on intercollegiate sports. BYU at Provo runs their entire Athletic department from television contracts (mostly for football) and donated funds through the Cougar Club. BYU-Idaho does not have intercollegiate sports. Therefore, BYU-Hawaii is the only church school that has been using church funds for athletics.
“I don’t think the church or the leaders in Salt Lake are opposed to intercollegiate sports, and perhaps that is why we were given three years to come up with an acceptable financial solution. However, since we were not allowed to request funds from anyone outside Hawaii or who had not graduated from BYU-Hawaii, we have found it virtually impossible to raise the $35-$50 million we were told was necessary to have the programs continue.”
In an interview with Hawaii News Now in 2015, BYUH President John Tanner said many millions of dollars would be needed to create an endowment to fund Athletics for the long run. He said in the interview, another problem is it has become more expensive to participate in the NCAA.
Porter said, “The reasons we were given were financial, consistent with what is done on other church campuses, and very generously delayed to allow all playing freshman to complete their athletic eligibility and graduate.”
Gabriel Roberts, head coach of men’s basketball, said, “I wasn’t here at the time of the announcement, but my understanding is because they wanted to use the funds from Athletics to increase student enrollment from 2,700 to 3,200.
“I think that campus life will immediately change as Athletics helps breathe life into the campus and community by way of school spirit. Not all students attended sporting events, but for the hundreds that do they will have fewer options for entertainment and socializing on campus and the North Shore.
“They will have to look elsewhere like driving into town, which can be an issue and an added cost. I think that without a significant population like student-athletes, you lose valuable, talented people who contribute to the community off the playing fields and courts.”
In place of Athletics, Tanner told Hawaii News Now the university plans to improve the intramurals program.
“We’ve got fitness, fairness, fellowship and fun,” said Tanner in the video interview. “I want to build a program that’s remarkable that way, and we won’t be bound to just NCAA sports.”