The University of Hawaii at Manoa athletic department owes the school $10 million in borrowed funds. Athletic Director Jim Donovan says his department has a plan to pay down the deficit quickly: winning football games.

“Our projections are that we probably won’t be in the black…(until) 2012,” he said. “And that’s assuming that the economy stays the same or starts getting a little better and the football team goes to a bowl game — that’s seven wins.”

“And then we’ll start paying down the deficit. A lot of that depends on the win-loss record of the teams and the overall economy and how fast we can pay that down,” he says.

Donovan was responding to comments by the university chancellor’s spokesman who told Civil Beat on Wednesday that the athletic department had no plan in place to pay back money it had borrowed since 2002. Nor did the university chancellor expect it to be paid back “right now or even in the immediate future,” said Gregg Takayama, spokesman for the chancellor.

Donovan said paying back the money “is totally our intention.”

To help the athletic department get its operating budget back in the black, the UH Board of Regents voted 11-3 Thursday afternoon in favor of charging students a $50 athletic fee each semester. Board members Artemo Baxa, Chuck Gee and John Holzman voted against the measure.

Both the Graduate Student Organization (GSO) and the Associated Students of the University of Hawaii (ASUH) had voiced frustration over why they should have to carry the financial burden of the athletic department.

“I hope they pay it back,” said Andrew Itsuno, president of the ASUH. “In athletics, for example, coaches that have a losing record, you’re held accountable and you’re fired. But in this situation, who is held accountable for the budget going over every year? In this situation, accountability is very ambiguous.”

The new $50 fee will generate about $2 million a year and help the department stop losing money. But it wouldn’t make a dent on the $10 million the department already owes. The new fee will go into effect in January.

The mood was tense at the board meeting Thursday morning, where it was standing room only. No less than 18 people, including UH coaches, students, alumni and members of the public testified for and against the proposed fee.

To open testimony, UH faculty member Hannah Miyamoto said, “This fee is being imposed because of a lack of fiscal discipline and responsibility by the athletic director, the board of regents and perhaps even by a series of University of Hawaii presidents.”

University of Hawaii walk-on football player Jett Jasper, who is the president-elect of the student athlete advisory committee, spoke to the regents with a prepared statement. “It(the fee) is the most important University of Hawaii athletic issue since our university decided to become a Division I caliber institution,” he said.

Dave Shoji, the second NCAA D-I volleyball coach to reach 1000 wins, agreed with Jasper. “I’m here to state the obvious,” he said. “I’m in support of the proposed athletic fee.” Shoji went on to say that he thought the fee would not only help athletics in general, but also encourage more support among the student body.

“What’s missing at our game is the students,” Shoji said. “I’m hoping that if this measure passes, more students would take the opportunity to come to games.”

As a bonus, university officials said that the new fee means students could attend University of Hawaii athletic competitions for free, gaining admittance by showing their student ID card. There would also be free transportation offered for football games to Aloha Stadium, university sponsored tailgate parties and an agreement that student organizations would be able to disperse 5-8 percent of revenue from the fee at their discretion.

Still, the deal seemed sour to the Associated Students of the University of Hawaii (ASUH) President Andrew Itsuno. He testified to the regents there was “a severe lack of process displayed by university administration leading up to the proposal of the athletic fee.”