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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, March 7, 2010

Keeping Nash becoming tough sell

By Ferd Lewis

Two weeks ago the University of Hawai'i Board of Regents publicly challenged athletic director Jim Donovan to run his department "more like a business."

It is a commandment with resonance today because if there were any doubts about making a change in the men's basketball coaching situation amid what has been a disappointing last-place finish in the Western Athletic Conference, the edict from the regents should have decided it.

With their 78-69 loss at Idaho yesterday, the Rainbow Warriors finished 10-20 (3-13 WAC) and missed the conference tournament.

They are numbers made more pointed by resulting drops in turnstile count, tickets distributed and ticket revenues.

Both average per game attendance (3,193) and tickets distributed (5,634) for home games hit at least 11-year lows, according to a UH listing. The ticket sales revenue ($993,538) slumped to at least an eight-year low.

For a department that counts on hoops to be one of its bigger breadwinners as it battles mounting deficits, these are sobering numbers.

The loss of five seniors does not portend well for next year when prospective season ticket customers will be asking for reasons to believe a turnaround is coming before they plunk down cash. Perceptions dominate and after three consecutive losing seasons under head coach Bob Nash and a 34-56 record, that is going to be a hard sell.

Especially since this was supposed to have been the turnaround year, a much anticipated payoff season for Nash, who promised as much with a "guarantee" of 18 wins at last year's awards banquet.

But the 'Bows, for a variety of reasons, including debilitating injuries and sidetracking suspensions, had trouble closing out games and never came close to delivering on expectations despite Roderick Flemings, their highly touted recruit of two years ago. Without Flemings and what could end up being the exodus of six of the top eight scorers, hope and customer confidence are already in short supply.

Can UH afford to buy out Nash's final year at $240,000? For Donovan, the operative decision will be: Can he afford not to?

It is unfortunate for Nash, who has given his all at UH for 31 years as a player and coach and done it with grace and class. He has lifted the academic level commendably and represented UH and the state well. He will always be revered as a member of the iconic Fabulous Five.

But as athletics has been reminded, it is a business now more than ever. One that comes with a demanding and unsentimental bottom line.