Hawaii lawmakers hear football program concerns

HONOLULU (AP) — The University of Hawaii Board of Regents plans to address the issue of morale on the university’s football team following a legislative hearing that featured testimony from former players and that the university system president criticized as one-sided.

More than a dozen football players have said they are leaving the university by entering the transfer portal, KHON TV reported. But Senate Higher Education Committee Chair Donna Mercado Kim said the calls and emails she has gotten from student-athletes and parents go beyond concerns with the football team.

“We’re not just hearing from football players, we’re hearing from women’s basketball, men’s basketball, there’s a lot of issues. We’re hearing from parents as well,” said Kim, who said she felt compelled to hold the informational hearing Friday.

The testimony was mainly from former players and parents and critical of football coach Todd Graham’s management, including his relationship with players, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported. Graham was hired in 2020.

Graham denied being abusive.

“No one has been verbally abused,” he said. Graham also said that things “obviously were not perfect.”

University of Hawaii President David Lassner described as “cherry-picked” testimony provided during the hearing held by the Senate Ways and Means and Higher Education committees.

Lassner said there was “substantial” written testimony in support of Graham, “and it was not allowed.”

The Board of Regents is set to meet on Jan. 20.

Graham has a record of 11-11 in his two seasons at the university. He has finished the second year of a five-year contract that pays him $800,000 per year, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.

Graham and university officials said they are working to improve communications. Athletic director David Matlin said he met with football players following complaints about Graham on social media and had with Graham “not easy discussions about what went wrong.”

The newspaper reported that Graham could be let go without cause if he were paid half his remaining contract.

State Sen. Glenn Wakai asked Matlin if he would buy out Graham’s remaining contract if the funds were available.

“No, right now it’s so fluid,” Matlin said. When pressed further, he called the question hypothetical.

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