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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, January 22, 2002

Initiatives will test fans' willingness to ante up

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Staff Writer

Callers to the radio talk shows want University of Hawai'i athletics to showcase itself in a higher profile conference.

Contributors to the Internet chat rooms want UH teams to rid their schedules of the Norfolk States and Montanas and not only play but be competitive with the marquee, Top 25 schools.

And letter-to-the-editor writers say the school should do what it takes to pay competitive salaries to UH coaches and provide them with the tools to be competitive.

Hardly anybody believes UH is where it needs to be right now or that it should sit still.

The question is: How many are willing to pay the freight for the upgrades?

When the time comes, will they still be willing to ante up at the box office or write a check for season tickets?

We're about to find out.

At a time when UH President Evan Dobelle is mandating that all departments raise the bar on their goals and football coach June Jones is asking that the school show a financial commitment to his vision of the future, the athletic department says it needs a major cash infusion to make headway with either.

That means, officials say, at least $4 million more in operating expenses to reach a $20 million budget in the next couple years as the athletic department's first significant step toward making its 19-sport program more competitive.

Money that, in these lean times, isn't about to come from state coffers or flow from heaven.

Where it will come from was an underlying topic last month at what has been described as a "vision session" at UH where athletic director Hugh Yoshida gathered staff members, boosters, alumni and students to redraw a strategic plan.

The first and potentially biggest changes in what might prove to be the biggest restructuring of the athletic department in its 27-year Division I history involve the way booster clubs are organized and season tickets are sold. Changes that could take place as soon as the upcoming football and Wahine volleyball season.

With little backing from Bachman Hall or a scripted plan to follow, UH had been content to tip-toe around the minefield that has been the so-called priority seating issue. It has levied modest — in comparison to some other schools — surcharges of $12 to $20 on some season tickets. Fearing an outcry from some longtime season ticket holders, it has held off requiring "donations" for all the best seats or allocating seats based upon those contributions.

That has kept down the level of protest but hasn't allowed the athletic department to truly scale the house and maximize what it sees as much needed potential revenue.

How a new plan, when details are finalized, will go over remains to be seen. If fans are included in the decision-making process and the rise is modest and incremental, a majority of fans will probably give it a chance.

UH fans, at least the ones who have been there season in and season out, are a patient and understanding lot. They have had to be to have endured so much and kept coming back. Witness the not-so-distant 0-12 football season that was part of the three worst years in school football history.

As such, it behooves UH to demonstrate that such fans will receive value for their hard-earned ticket dollars. That the money is necessary and that it will be put to prudent and effective use.

Ultimately, of course, it comes down to what kind of product UH puts on the fields and on the courts.