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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, September 25, 2008

No more crowding into Aloha

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Columnist

The hair is whiter and he's a little older but, even at age 70, football coach Dick Tomey will be easily recognizable on the sidelines at Aloha Stadium Saturday when his San Jose State team plays the University of Hawai'i.

One wonders, however, how familiar the place he called home for 10 seasons (1977-86) as the UH coach might seem to Tomey.

Not the physical plant, mind you, but the prospect of recurring empty seats.

A joint statement by UH and Aloha Stadium this week said they "anticipate an attendance of approximately 37,000" for Saturday's game. Small enough, the release explains, that "ticket sales at this point do not warrant the use of Ford Island" as an alternate parking site.

If that crowd estimate holds up and you hope there might be sufficient walk-up sales to boost it to a respectable 40,000 it would, indeed, be sad.

Here the Warriors would be just two games into their 2008 home schedule and but four games removed from the Sugar Bowl appearance and attendance would be flirting with 35,000? How huge a step back from 2007 would that be?

Now, a measly 36,247 for the home opener against Weber State was one thing. Maybe you could explain it by the Wildcats' Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly known as Division I-AA) standing and lack of long-standing ties.

But the Spartans are the second-longest running series UH has in the sport and there have been a bunch of close, well-played games.

Not to forget it is also the Western Athletic Conference opener for the Warriors, who begin their 30th WAC season and defense of their first outright title in football. A red-letter milestone you'd think that UH would be promoting the heck out of while it has the chance.

In Tomey's tenure at UH, even through 4-6-2 and 5-5-1 seasons, it sometimes seemed all they had to do was turn on the lights in Halawa and 40,000 would show up. Even if it was only out of curiosity. Of course, back then UH football was an event.

Proof of that was getting 46,649 for Abilene Christian, an NAIA opponent, and a handful of crowds above 40,000 for the likes of Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach. UH was a combined 11-11-2 over Tomey's final two seasons in Manoa yet still averaged more than 40,000.

Of course, some things have changed since Tomey was employing sideline motivational "chats." Pay-per-view and premium seat charges, for example. And it isn't exactly an open-the-wallet-wide economy right now.

But if, in its only home game in the span of a month, UH draws just 37,000, you shudder to think what the turnouts might be for future home games with Louisiana Tech, Nevada and Idaho.

And, of larger concern, what it will mean to the bottom line of an athletic department already treading red ink.

Reach Ferd Lewis at flewis@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8044.